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Hunger pains and the Thursday meal

refuse removal

By Khanyo O Mjamba

Excluding Phuza Thursday, I had other reasons for liking the 5th day of the week. The most important of these being that of my municipality’s sanitation services’ weekly collection visits. Every Thursday morning, bearing the formidable mass of black plastic, men and women of complex odours and bright orange overalls hop on and off moving trucks to collect waste. That which I, an unwitting consumerist, leave behind is left for others to deal with.

As with all things too good, an adverse truth presented itself. You see, I was not the only one anticipating the day. For some, Thursday brings about an opportunity to eat.

The downside to being a product of a modest but sheltered upbringing can cause the hunger of the less fortunate to be only just a little more than a vexing inconvenience at most times. In a country where approximately 11-million citizens are food insecure, the reality of this matter presents an ethical situation.

You see, it occurred to me that this phenomenon is something I had not been completely oblivious to. The urchins at the robots with their placards describing their misfortune, for example, brought about a touch of guilt, annoyance and some sympathetic pangs in the belly – even though I never look at them in the eyes when I claim to not have any change.

The whole thing became an issue when the waste bags outside our gate were feverishly filleted, contents strewn all over the front of the wall. I returned from my day job last Thursday to find a violent scene of crusts, cartons, packets and paper strewn all over the front yard. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement.

What was it that nagged me so much about this, though? Is it that my relatively comfortable lifestyle had its bowels exposed? Was it anger at broken promises about poverty eradication and housing? Or perhaps, it was an accusatory finger pointing at my own chest for my own apathy?

There the conundrum faced me: What bothers me more – the mess they leave behind or the poverty that compels them to survive this way? I mean, it’s easy to take the high road and blame the system and its many flaws when I do nothing.

As I was bent over, collecting the debris, conflicting thoughts ran through my mind.

The first one toyed with ideas of a deterrent, to save myself the embarrassment and frustration that can come from this possibly becoming a Thursday ritual. Perhaps I should arrange the garbage in a fashion that would be inedible no matter what the demands of hunger may be – a slideshow of bulging refuse bags doused in household disinfectant played in my mind.

The second option came out of sympathy and grew inversely proportional to the initial sentiment. Maybe I could render the ‘food’ more accommodating, laying it out in its different categories. It was a fleeting thought but, as I tied the refuse bag, I imagined that it wouldn’t be an easy choice to subject oneself to the various implications and risk of ransacking bins for survival, more so when there are offspring to feed.

I conceded out of acknowledging that some people fall under the category ‘presently disadvantaged’ and there was no way that we, the previously disadvantaged (and the ‘never disadvantaged’), could with good conscience prevent the ransacking of our rubbish bins for subsistence. Something about this whole charade inspired a flicker of disgust within me, disgust at what I represent. Well, primarily, I was pretty chuffed with myself but something has gone terribly wrong here. The media bombards us with flowery words from the country’s leadership about hunger despite their own actions of feeding themselves with the bread of the previously disadvantaged.

Thursday mornings now involves me sorting through the bruised apples, expired slices of bread, soured milk, full cream cake icing, chicken skins and bones, dregs in fruit juice bottles, bacon rinds, green and furry cheese, and the bones of lamb chops with traces of meat on. I hope this generosity persists.

Khanyo O Mjamba is a freelance writer and communications student. He lives in East London.

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    • Stephen Browne

      There would appear to be a large gap for someone to harness this seemingly negative situation. In my mind it would make sense to a.) provide at least rudimentary sorting guidelines (ask the people going through the trash what they are looking for other than food and why) and appropriate recepticles, and b.) hire the industrious souls who make a living off our trash to collect what can (clearly) be turned into money.

      It should shame us that the people who are doing the most to preserve resources and recycle are those who have the least.

    • Stephen

      Nice article, enjoyed that.

      Living in Germany we have a different set of dynamics wrt waste removal. We have to divide our gunk up into ‘recyclables’ (plastics – but not plastics soiled with food waste, etc), ‘paper / cardboard’, ‘bio’ (mowed lawn and prunings – stuff from garden generally, but also discarded veggies and salad – though without dressing / gravy) and, ‘general waste’.

      General waste however does not include glass (bottles are taken to the bottle disposal area and discarded into green, brown and white bottle bins) nor metals (the iron monger comes around monthly to pick up the metal waste, ringing his bloody bell), nor electronics (these items get taken to a special place remote from our house).

      And then theres general house-hold items (old furniture, carpets, fish tanks) that need removing. For these things you phone the local municipality and arrange a date for collection. The evening before, you have to place all this stuff on the pavement (not too far from the curb, but not so as to obstruct pedestrians – or they will not ‘pikkitup’ – and you have to set another appointment.

      Nothwithsatnding the high tax rate in this country, they then whack you quarterly with hefty bills for this refuse ‘management’.

      To cap it all, you are expected to sweep your own street (or, oh the shame!) once a week. And in winter you must at all times keep your bit of pavement clear from snow! (Before work, in the freezing darkness?)

    • Momma Cyndi

      Rather an uncomfortable article for me.
      I have a bit of a soup kitchen going from my front gate as I work from home a lot an can’t refuse a plea for food. I won’t give money but I have never not given food.

      At the moment, I am gearing up for spring with a full veggy garden on the pavement. I foresee the (nasty words) guy who lives to the right of me throwing diesel on it before it is fully productive, bit I do intend trying it. Who knows, maybe a spring miracle will occur and he will allow me to grow amaranth on the pavement.

      Being in the food industry – stale bread is probably okay, sour milk is probably okay (depending on your kitchen), shriveled veggies are probably okay (depending on your kitchen and if they cook it) but meat is a bit of a hinkey. The same things that cause human tissue to be horribly poisoned is the same things that make animal tissue poisoned.

    • Mark Kerruish

      I lived in Brackenfell in 2003. I came home from work to the same thing and was annoyed. Thought about it for a bit and next rubbish day went to talk to the recyclers. I asked them, politely, what they were looking for and promised I would leave it, sorted, next to the bin if they would be kind enough to make sure my bin was in good order on the day.

      Never had a problem again.

      My neighbors, who yelled and vented racist spleen, had a weekly hernia.

      Moral of the story: respects wins.

    • nguni

      Normally my wife takes care of these chores but she’s overseas 3 weeks so its up to me now. This evening I was about to flush the sauce of Woolies pickled fish down the loo when it occurred to me that someone might enjoy it with bread, so I didn’t. – will it last outside the fridge though?
      I sympathise with Stephen as I went thru a couple of decades of ‘strenge M├╝lltrennung’ myself. The continentals do overdo things but it becomes a mindset so the culture shock hit me when I returned to SA and was faced with UNLIMITED numbers of black plastic(!!) rubbish bags weekly outside the gates.. Part of the idea of separating rubbish was to reduce the amount of general (unsortable) rubbish a household produced that ended up on the rubbish dump so our municipality only picked up a tiny volume (about 0.25m2) once a month.. In the meantime my conscience has been numbed by the mountains of black rubbish bags. Only consolation: At least our pile is still much smaller than the others on our street.

    • nguni

      Khanyo might be interested to know that to prevent this scrouging thru the rubbish bags many of us in the suburbs of EL only put our rubbish out just before the garbage collectors come by (even though its become difficult to predict the time since they have discovered that picking up the rubbish at night brings more cash). Which raises an interesting question re downtown EL, which is plagued by mountains of rubbish on the pavements almost all week and which has given Slummies the bad reputation it has: We assumed it was done out of ignorance of rubbish collection times, but maybe its done out of sympathy/ubuntu for the hungry street people?

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