This month the world is celebrating the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a man who personified the values of South Africa as a country at peace with itself and other nations. Mandela was the face of the struggle of men and women who believed South Africa would take its place among the family of nations.
Led by this larger-than-life father of our first democratic nation, the hope for the future of our country was palpable across the social, political, racial and class divides. This was a man who pursued unity even though the conditions were sometimes decidedly negative.
A magnanimous visionary, Mandela worked with like-minded men and women to achieve the goal of making South Africa a value-based country. Mandela’s values were not confined to realising political freedom but included issues such as environmental justice. The right to access to clean water and proper sanitation affects the right to health.
It is profoundly important that this right comes with responsibilities for those who enjoy it. For instance, the right to access to clean water and proper sanitation places a responsibility on everyone to refrain from polluting water resources and destroying wetlands.
Mandela would have felt repugnance at people demanding the right to access to water and proper sanitation while at the same time failing to take responsibility for pollution.
He would have been of the view that sometimes the impact of pollution of water resources is the result not only of what others had done, but also the result of people being passive about what is happening around them. It is certain that he would have said those who are not doing anything to help stop the polluters are equally guilty. He would have frowned open those taking the easy way out by excusing themselves from acting positively because they are not the ones who caused the pollution of water resources in the first place.
It is for this reason that the department of water and sanitation, in partnership with citizens and various civil society organisations across the country, is celebrating the birth of Mandela through the Clear Rivers Campaign. This campaign is aimed at actively engaging people and promoting awareness and education about protecting the country’s water resources.
As we celebrate Mandela Month, we are all called upon to be active in shaping the life of this country, not to be spectators while our country’s life-giving water resources are affected by pollution and the degradation of the environment.
Our best way to remember Mandela would be to become agents of change for the benefit of all South Africans. — Hosia Sithole, spokesperson for the Gauteng department of water and sanitation