Freedom: our treasure and our trash

I have been thinking for a while about what it is that distinguishes what we sometimes refer to as the ‘hood, ghetto or township from other neighbourhoods. Why would I spend my time and energy on this? Because it bothers me that where I come from it seems no one really cares that there is filth piling up at their front door; that children are more concerned with the brand of shoes on their feet and do not have any concept of the effort it takes their parents to support their basic needs as well as satisfying the additional material demands they make which is influenced by peer pressure.

Besides the obvious economic divide that separates communities why is it that higher income neighbourhoods have clean, tree-lined streets, homes and parks with neat, lush gardens and public service offices (clinics, libraries, police stations etc) with welcoming premises and value-adding service providers? Why is it that there are more visible social ills (poverty, vandalism, higher teen pregnancy rates, schooling challenges) in the so-called middle and lower income communities than in those where people live more affluently?

I have not yet visited a neighbourhood like Delft or Maitland where there was not defaced property; heavily fenced school grounds with bars on broken windows and doors; domestic waste scattered about, blocking gutters; uninviting recreational spaces or recreational spaces occupied by unemployed young men idling away their time (rather than children playing). Surely having more money does not determine the physical appearance of community. I’m aware of research available that alludes to some kind of connection between these but the stats do not explain what happened to common sense and consideration for shared spaces.

Our communities are ugly. It makes you wonder what’s lurking underneath the dirt. Yet there are so many gems in these neighbourhoods – people with innovative ideas, individuals who have a genuine interest in serving the community and talented artists. From experience I know that lack of capital often stunts the progress of small business ventures and community projects. I also know struggling artists, many who gave up their dreams to take care of their families because they do not get the opportunity to connect with the resources they need to be financially successful as creatives.

This fact that poorer communities are dirty bugs me. It’s such a simple thing. You produce waste, you dispose of it. You don’t throw it in your front yard. If an entire family is comfortable living in a home they don’t care about keeping tidy then naturally very few (if any) of the families in that street or area will care that an empty field down the road is overgrown with bushes and gathering dirt, or worse, that it will end up being a potentially unsafe playing space for children.

So no one takes ownership of keeping things clean even though, for most, the community they live in may be their place of residence for the rest of their lives. Their children will be raised in the same neighbourhood and accept the state of things as normal. Communities belong to those who reside in it. The government and public service providers cannot be held accountable for the trash we generate and litter our streets with. With the level of poverty and the number of poor communities, is it reasonable to demand improvement from overextended public services when we are all so deep in this crap? Are dirty streets are symptom of broken homes, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, marital trouble and financial struggle? Or is our environment the cause of these issues? Garbage in; garbage out.

Does anyone wonder about this? Shouldn’t we know better? Don’t we want better?


Perhaps South Africans were so overwhelmed by freedom that they overlooked the accountability that came with finally owning it. We’re once again at a key point in our history; Madiba has passed on and the world celebrates his legacy with us. The more footage I see on TV in memory of him, the more I am puzzled about our tendency to be lead, and saved from ourselves. I am grateful to have witnessed the work of such an amazing person. It reminds me that I don’t need capital or a savvy business plan to contribute to changing communities; more importantly, it highlights the urgent need to us all to play a role.

I came across this tale last week and with a heavy heart I realise the magnitude of the damage that is done when our spirits are crushed by others. When the human heart gives up, there is very little money can do to restore hope. In fact, using money as a quick fix to correct economic inequality can do more harm when shared values are not in place.

Satan was having a sale of his wares and on display offered were the rapier of jealousy, the dagger of fear, and the strangling noose of hatred, each with its own high price. Displayed separately was a worn and battered wedge; this was not for sale. This was the devil’s most prized possession. It was the wedge of discouragement.

The devil explained that the wedge of discouragement was the best tool in his arsenal because hatred, fear, or jealousy may lead an immature person to act unwisely, but he will act none-the-less. But discouragement causes makes man sit down, pity himself, and do nothing.

 Madiba's Freedom

I hope for positive, healing change for us all, in our hearts, our speech and our behaviour.


One thought on “Freedom: our treasure and our trash

  1. Pingback: Plain people (Part 2) | lifespreadthick

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