Dear South Africa,
I love your people. I don’t ever recall feeling so genuinely received anywhere more than here in South Africa. Smiles, so warm, gentle and inviting.
I love your wildlife. The diversity of magnificent animals and the enchanting calls of birds opens my heart to the richness of life.
And your flora. Brilliant. Vibrant. Lush.
I love your coastlines. Alluring. Rugged. Windswept seas of marine green. Kelp beds, dolphins, whales. You have so much.
I love your culture, the philosophy of Ubuntu or human-ness. That belief that all humans are all connected. So beautiful.
Dear, dear, South Africa. There’s so much I love about your country, but…
the litter, the plastic pollution, that I see everywhere we go from the mountains to the seas, in rural wilderness and in your cities, it casts a painful and unsightly shadow across your beauty. It is a problem. And if you truly want to sell yourself to the world as a place of eco-tourism, you are, sadly, coming up short.
South Africa, your litter problem is not only appalling, but you are harming the very land you want visitors to enjoy. These beautiful mountains and waters and all the animals who need health not plastic toxicity. They need you.
I am compelled to unleash my concern on this issue. After visiting about a dozen beaches here in South Africa, I was most motivated to write this post after visiting Jeffrey’s Bay. Despite those many littered beaches we’ve seen, I had higher expectations for Jeffrey’s Bay. It is, after all, one of the top ten surfing destinations in the world. I had higher expectations of Jeffrey’s Bay, because I have higher expectations of a surfing community; surfers who get so much from the ocean (and usually or used to give back to it) and businesses that make a living from the sea shore. From the looks of things, it’s fairly obvious that not much of anything is being done to clean up the beaches here despite all those who benefit from it – surfers, businesses, beach-goers, fisherman. Quite the opposite seemingly. Plastic bags, plastic food wrappers, styrofoam, bottles, cans, and cigarette butts everywhere. Fishing gear, nets, hooks. Does Surfrider not have a presence in Jeffrey’s Bay? Are people here too unconscious or apathetic to do their part in stopping the destruction of a beach of such extraordinary beauty? I simply had higher expectations from a surfing community, especially one of such reputable significance. I am disappointed.
Scott and I made a visit to Jeffrey’s Bay to relish in what we expected to be a magical spot. And from a distance, it was magical. Crystal blue waters rolling onto white powdery beaches. The mistake we made was to walk on that powdery sand, to feel the Indian Ocean. In less than 15 minutes, instead of enjoying the beach and the water, we had fists full of garbage. I find it very difficult to enjoy a beach that is trashed.
I came across a woman, Jennifer, who works for the municipality cleaning up on the weekends. We talked for some time. She shared her own concern about the amount of trash she finds on the beach and the lack of communication on the matter. Jennifer didn’t know that cigarette butts are harmful to marine life. This was very telling to me, because we find and pick up cigarette butts everywhere we go. I am not exaggerating – it is everywhere. Worse on the beaches than anywhere I’ve ever been. But it’s everywhere.
If the woman who works for the municipality didn’t know that cigarette butts don’t biodegrade and instead end up in the ocean ultimately in the bellies of marine animals, then I suspect all the folks dropping their butts are also in the dark. I am not judging. For some reason, this information is not universal public knowledge. Hopefully this post will help in some way. So, to everyone who throws their butts on the ground, FYI, unless you’re smoking filterless cigarettes, you are causing harm to the environment every time you leave a butt on the ground. No matter where you are, it all ends up in the earth leeching chemicals and usually in the water, be it a river, a stream or the ocean potentially killing marine life. Please, get your butts off the beach.
But the butts are barely scratching the surface of this issue. Plastic, plastic of all types from wrappers to bottles to Styrofoam to bags bags bags. Do any offenders ever question where it goes? Do they think the land and seas magically clean it up? Do they care? Ocean health is correlated to human activity. Marine animals are dying. Why aren’t we humans getting that? Why can’t we keep our self-destructive tendencies to ourselves? What does it take to make people care?
Below are litter photos taken in less than a 24-hour time period from Mossel Bay to Addo. I’ve taken litter photos throughout South Africa from Kruger National Park to Addo National Park and in between.
So, dear South Africa. You have some work ahead of you. Starting with a massive cleanup then rubbish and recycle bins (with lids) onto education and then moving onward from there to community support programs and ultimately enforcement if the more proactive approaches are unsuccessful. Scott had a good suggestion of establishing a Sister City with Santa Cruz. We still experience litter there but locals come out in force after big holiday weekends to take the responsibility of keeping their treasured beaches clean.
Please act. I want to only say positive things about your wonderful country, but a moral dilemma and an earth obligation are preventing me from doing that. Please, if you don’t do it for all the animals who are suffering from your negligence, do it for your economy. If others see it like I do, they will feel heart-sick. I don’t know anyone who intentionally plans a beach holiday to a place that was once beautiful but is now a sandy trash bin.
Dear South Africa, if your people truly practice the philosophy of Ubuntu, then they above all others would know that it’s not just we humans who are connected to one another, but we are connected to all of earth’s beings and to the very earth that continues to provide for us despite the abuses we thrust upon her. Please, dear South Africa, I implore you. Be the example for all the other countries who struggle with this same issue. Help your people help make things better.
With genuine and loving concern,
Kenda Swartz Pepper
PS: I see this as a universal issue. During the last 10 years we’ve visited beaches in Belize, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, California, Florida, Costa Rica, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Mexico and South Africa. I have hundreds if not thousands of plastic pollution photos from many of these places. I’ve seen beaches in Mexico (from Puerto Vallarta to Veracruz) and Italy (this was a big surprise to me – all along the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts) that are much more trashed than Jeffrey’s Bay.
My question to the readers:
Does there exist anywhere in the world a truly clean beach? And I mean truly clean where you can walk on it from end to end without seeing rubbish including those annoying little pieces of plastic.
Does such a thing even exist anymore?
Please write in. I really want to know. I’d like to see it.
Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.
Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.
Because normal human activity is worse for nature than the greatest nuclear accident in history.
~Martin Cruz Smith
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Check out the other South Africa posts below:
South Africa Post #1: Our first Kruger National Park Safari
South Africa Post #2: Babysitting a Banded Mongoose Pup in Marloth Park
South Africa Post #3: When Zebras Visit
South Africa Post #4: Daily Living in Marloth Park, South Africa
South Africa Post #5: Kruger Restcamps: Skukuza, Satara and Olifants
South Africa Post #6: Kruger Safari: Full Moon over Letaba
South Africa Post #7: Kruger Safari: Treasure Hunting in Tamboti and Lower Sabie
South Africa Post #8: There’s a Mongoose in my Ear!
South Africa Post #9: Peering through God’s Window at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #10: The Dam Boat Tour at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #11: Rare Sexual Encounters of South Africa
South Africa Post #12: To the Wildlife of Marloth Park
South Africa Post #13: Nelspruit to Cape Town
South Africa Post #14: Moved to Tears on Freedom Day
South Africa Post #15: Penguins in South Africa?
South Africa Post #16: The Southernmost Tip of Africa
South Africa Post #17: Birds of Eden at Plettenberg Bay
This is South Africa Post #18: Dear South Africa: I love you, but…
South Africa Post #19: Elephants at Addo National Park
South Africa Post #20: The Garden Route: Nature’s Valley and Wilderness
South Africa Post #21: Endangered Bontebok
South Africa Post #22: Top Five Cape Town Experiences
South Africa Post #23: Chasing Rainbows in South Africa
South Africa Post #24: Vegan Wanderlust in South Africa
South Africa Post #25: Ubuntu