The Sunday Independent - - BUSINESS - PALI LEHOHLA Pali Lehohla is the for­mer Statis­ti­cianGen­eral of South Africa and the for­mer head of Sta­tis­tics South Africa.

CHRIST­MAS came and went and so has the New Year. Sud­denly we are back to our rou­tine. Our sense for the year has just be­gun. The big agenda for South Africa is the na­tional elec­tions. This will usher in the sixth ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A his­toric mile­stone has just un­folded in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo which, for the first time in six decades, en­joyed what is ad­judged to be its first demo­cratic elec­tion.

The end-of-year cel­e­bra­tions seem to have been long for those on the twi­light and fringes of so­ci­ety.

The Tsh­wane Mu­nic­i­pal­ity had not col­lected rub­bish for at least three weeks. This was from just be­fore Christ­mas to Jan­uary 8. The streets by then were lit­er­ally over-flow­ing from the waste and wrap­pers of the silly pe­riod.

By the way, most peo­ple in the Chris­tian world are born in Septem­ber and this af­firms the sig­nif­i­cance of the fes­tiv­i­ties and the joy­ous in­dul­gence. But it’s not about births that this ar­ti­cle is about. It’s about peo­ple who ma­raud the streets for sur­vival from the waste.

Over the three weeks they were de­prived of what had be­come their reg­u­lar means of liveli­hoods. No sooner were the bins out in the streets than they were be­ing opened. The con­tents were metic­u­lously searched for plas­tic, metal and pa­per. In the light of the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDG), the Goal­keep­ers Sum­mit and the Global Cit­i­zens Con­cert held here in De­cem­ber, this was a sad re­minder of the chal­lenges that have to be over­come, in par­tic­u­lar as re­lat­ing to SDG 1 on elim­i­nat­ing poverty and Goal 2 on hunger.

But there was also SDG 11 on sus­tain­able cities and com­mu­ni­ties, as well as SDG 8 on de­cent work.

One won­dered, with these mul­ti­tudes of men drag­ging mas­sive loads to cen­tres of re­cy­cling, whether re­duc­ing in­equal­ity, Goal 10, is within reach.

The grime and grease on their bod­ies shin­ing against the blis­ter­ing sum­mer sun sug­gested that clean water, Goal 6, could not be part of their worry as they strove to just tackle in ways too un­sat­is­fac­tory to deal with Goal 2 on zero hunger.

But the task these men are tack­ling through heart-rend­ing non-choices they have to make is to teach us that a cir­cu­lar econ­omy is pos­si­ble, an econ­omy of abun­dance wherein they can­not and need not live a life of mis­ery. What it takes is re­spon­si­ble pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, namely Goal 12.

The toil of these men, now joined by a few women, begs the ques­tion whether it’s not pos­si­ble to make their back-break­ing work lighter by de­sign­ing rub­bish bins in such a way that they could ac­cess pa­per, plas­tic and metal much more eas­ily.

When an en­tre­pre­neur­ial idea emerges to help these chal­lenges, it should be such that it does not dis­place those who are liv­ing in the twi­light and mar­gins of so­ci­ety.

Yet when the poor min­gle with cars with their un­wieldy bur­dens right in the cen­tre of the road,, one can hardly sur­mise that they are on the mar­gins.

These kings of the road are show­ing a dif­fer­ent story about South Africa, one that sug­gests a so­ci­ety that should tackle the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

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