pelican.jpg (333200 bytes)   A Bird's Eye View on Waste

Waste Management

Conference Programme

The Evolution of Waste in Bostwana
by V.T.C. Matsoga
Principal Waste Management Officer
Dept. of Sanitation & Waste Management, Gaborone, Bostwana

Ladies and gentlemen, the concept of waste management is a relatively new one in Botswana and indeed in the African continent. In many countries, the handling of wastes was done from a point of collection and disposal to far-away places. Waste was viewed then as a nuisance that needed to be disposed of. Waste was considered as a material that did not have any value to anybody or anything. Matters were made worse by the fact that many spatial and physical developments were made without any consideration to the management or handling of wastes.

In Botswana the evolution of waste management can be traced back as recent as 1980 which is a period of time which I call the Awakening Era. It is at this time when Botswana realised that we should graduate from a syndrome of neglect to that of concern in waste management. Unfortunately, this awakening at a very late period and to safe the situation, there is a need for concrete affirmative action in providing for and in repositioning waste management services in the basket of social services. There are seven eras in the evolution of waste management in the country. These eras are as follows:
This is the era before the arrival and during the tenure of colonialists or protectionists. It was the time when the chiefs were in command of the social order and development. This time, there were no modern wastes and much of the wastes were organic and were disposed of as per the authority of the chiefs who had appointed monitors to inspect the wards to ascertain cleanliness. The general public participated in cleaning the surroundings because of fear of punishment by God and by the Chief. People feared that diseases would be sent upon them if they did not clean. Like in many countries, especially the Jews of old, people understood that cleanliness was next to godliness.
It will be realised that the concept of segregating waste to a particular space came from the chiefs and their people. During this era people were individually collecting and transporting their wastes to central places known as DITHOTOBOLO (Rubbish Dumps). These dumps were the foretaste and forerunners of the modern landfills. This era was safer because the wastes then were within the management ability of the people. These management and control were also facilitated by the spirit of belonging by all the people. In fact there was no vivid discrimination due to the relational bond in the people.
This era somewhat killed the ‘Community Spirit’ by creating an environment of sections of habitation according to affluence and influence. The colonialists, who became the new "administrators" introduced wastes which were foreign to the colonies. The major focus of colonialists was to capture and replace more people without due regard to the environment. The waste streams introduced were cans, iron, steel and others such as paper. As compared to nowadays the quantities were small but still significant to be attended to. These wastes were dumped and covered with soil or just discarded into the environment. Some of the wastes were found to be re-useable by the natives of Botswana. The question of re-use of wastes is therefore not new to Botswana. It just needs to be refined. The steel belts from the ox wagon wheels were used as bases for beer pots, as surrounds of fire-places and for trees. Bones from animals were sold to colonial merchants for few ‘shillings’ and the people were informed that these could be used to make paint. The colonial era unfortunately cultivated colonial mentality in the colonisers and the colonised. There was therefore no development towards waste management.
This era starts in the early sixties and spans for ten years. In waste management, there was no plan for waste control or management. Even as development started in various sectors such as industry and health care services, lo and behold, the new native officials did not plan for management of waste streams because what was at stake then was national capacity building with priorities perceived with a colonial mind. Little did they realise that ‘the two most important measures to promote health in the countries that are now developed were improved nutrition and better environmental hygiene’. Hospitals dumped their wastes at their backyards and the human tissues were burned in open fires or in mbaola which were used for heating water. The hospitals and clinics acquired their peculiar effluvia that were ever issuing from them.
The local authorities, which took over municipal services under the authority of the Local Government (Councils/Townships) Act of 1965 Cap. 40:1/2 were without skill and resources. The various streams continued to find their way into the environment.
This is a very short era starting in the seventies. During this era the HEALTH SYSTEM of the country realised the folly of concentrating on curative medicine with little on social medicine and community health. There was then created a Family Welfare Education service. It was even good to note that in 1973 there was instituted a new community approach to be known as VILLAGE HEALTH COMMITTEE system. This was done in order to enhance community participation at village/ward level.
These committees and the Family Welfare Educators were the vehicles of change towards the handling of wastes (refuse). A higher degree of participation in various ways was observed during this era. This is the same era which brought about the Primary Health Care concept which was accepted by many countries after the 1978 Alma Ata Conference. This concept encouraged community involvement and popular participation. Unfortunately, the authorities did not change their attitude and their planning continued without regard to waste management.
The Village Health Committees and the Health Workers educated the people to dig refuse in their yards and dispose the combustibles in them (these included plastics, paper and boxes, etc). This was well received by the people but unfortunately nothing was provided for the non-combustibles! The pits were then used to receive all kinds of wastes streams and when the pit got full a new one was dug. At the end, the yard would be filled with dug pits. This was a set back!
This era can be traced from 1975 and into the future. It is an era when the local authorities were beginning to recognise the need to start a refuse collection service. In one of the pioneers of these services the council used a hired ox-wagon to collect wastes. The coming of this service met great bureaucratic opposition since it was not ripe time yet. It is however encouraging to note that ever since then, the collection service and system is undergoing rigorous evolution and improvement as we journey into the future.
During this era, refuse was only taken to be "thrown faraway" and waste generators were officially ‘advised’ to take their waste and throw it faraway by the health officials, without taking due regard to the place and manner of disposal. Unfortunately the authorities were not sensitised because they were entrenched in the old systems of operations. Each institution or development establishment was left to find a way of dealing with its waste stream.
In 1978 it was concluded that the government was paying lip service to refuse collection. It should be mentioned that the sensitisation program by the Village Health Committees was bearing fruit. A number of Village Development Committees started to site refuse disposal sites. This is the era when the country was developing very fast and calling for many foreign investors. These brought wastes but no information on how to deal with the new types. The councils could not and do not cope with the volumes and complexities of these new arrivals.
This era starts in 1980 and stretches for about nine to ten years. During the era there was noticed a substantial shift of attention from that of neglect to that of concern. This was and it is a direct result of the influence of the Primary Health Care strategy. The people, the politicians, the press started to react against a situation of lack of organised service in waste management.
The country was getting dirtier by the day although people were getting sensitised about environmental cleanliness. This was precipitated by lack of adequate service at local and national level. The reaction of the various members of the communities made the authorities to act. This was to be a very difficult exercise because the communities were demanding what was not according to the plans of the technocrats. Nevertheless is was a powerful avenue of getting things done. The results were amazing !
In 1984, there was declared a national Keep Botswana Clean Day This day made people go into the environment and collect all types and streams of wastes except the toxic or hazardous ones. The aim was to get rid of littering and conscientise people about indiscriminate littering. This day is complimented by small scale clean up campaigns in various localities in the country during the year organised by different players.
In 1986, there was established a national Anti Litter Committee. This committee was to give advice to councils on refuse collection service.
In 1988, there was provided funds for refuse vehicles and fencing of sites. This vote was originally for Sanitation or Latrinisation. It was first time that there was a specific vote providing for issues of waste control. It was basically provided for purchase of refuse vehicles and for assisting in the fencing of the refuse dumps to ensure control and to keep out scavenging people and animals.
This era starts in the 1990’s and it goes further into the future and it is yet to be subdivided into its chronological significance.
In 1990, transfer of the service to village contractors
In 1991, privatisation option was started in Gaborone
In 1993, a national Waste Management Project was launched in the country and during the same year, the country began to commemorate the annual Clean Up the World Campaign, which is an international event sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme.
In 1996, the government created a national Waste Management Division to try and harness all waste management issues at both local and central levels in the government system. In the same year, there was drafted the Waste Management Policy and Strategy. This document is the main policy that guides all activities of waste management in the country. It calls for total adherence to the hierarchy of waste management such are Reduction, Reuse, Recycling, Treatment and Disposal.
In 1998, the government promulgated the Waste Management Act. This act has a number of penalties that cover all aspects of the service from littering to landfills. It calls for the registration and licensing of waste facilities.
In 1999, there was created a new institution called Department of Sanitation and Waste Management. This took over from the Division as mentioned above.
For educational and awareness creation purposes, the country has held four biennial congresses since 1993. These have been accompanied by the production of waste management videos in Setswana and English. A set of eleven posters has been produced which cover various aspects of waste streams and their management.
There are a number of developments that took place during this era such as:
  • the creation of Vision 2016
  • the provision of the National Development Plan 8
  • the acceptance of the Agenda 21
  • the resolve of the First Lady to start a Keep Botswana Clean Campaign as part of her contribution.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed as we refine the evolution of waste management in the remediation era. This will mean correcting those points that have been left unattended to throughout the history of waste management. These include the important topics such as the cost effectiveness of waste management services and technologies, coupled with cost recovery through tariff setting. Other areas of concern in Botswana can be summarised as follows:


The most required step in the waste management service at the moment is the collection of the wastes from the neighbourhoods of many people. I am convinced that the waste management service should do a lot to improve the tarnished image of the waste management sector.
The Department of Sanitation and Waste Management is working out a system of standardising waste collection operations. This cannot be done without scrutinising the current systems.
It has been observed that collection service is adequate due to the following reasons:
  • lack of logistics such as collection vehicles
  • use of inappropriate equipment due to poor planning
  • no specific schedules for waste collection
  • no waste receptacles provided either at domestic premises or at community places
  • less motivated and unsupervised waste collection crews.


It is pathetic, ladies and gentlemen, to observe that our cities are growing in terms of skyscrapers while on the other hand they are growing in terms of unofficial garbage mountains. Because of our system of waste disposal of going very far, many people do not even know where their wastes end up.
It is known that ‘dumping sites range from backyards to open areas, streets roads and drains’. The designated disposal sites are an eyesore, a danger to the health of the people and a potential source of contamination and pollution. Some of these have become homes and refuge for unofficial scavengers. The next century requires more than this from us.
For final disposal of wastes in Botswana there are 175 disposal sites and only three of them are proper landfills. Currently the government is giving funds to all local authorities for construction of landfills across the country. These landfills are being constructed according to the requirements of the minimum guidelines that have already been produced and made official operating documents. Some waste streams such as clinical wastes are being incinerated although there is still room for improvement. There are some health facilities that are not provided with incinerators.


The establishment of proper waste management services requires a change of attitude in those with power to make decisions. Many people are quick to blame councils for non- delivery without studying the situation on the ground. The scrutiny of the problem many a times lies with the history of the past, which cannot be changed by council alone.
We are now in an era that requires national planners, administrators and leaders to realise that cleaning the environment is as equally important as defence of a country. The mind set must change here. The fact of the matter is that waste management has never enjoyed the priority given to its sister social services.
There is also a phenomenal tendency to blame the poor and the less privileged for the indiscriminate littering yet it is evident that the worst culprits in improper waste management practices are the rich, the educated, the industrialists, the institutions of learning, the government institutions and the business communities. We must balance the facts here and set the record straight.
The change of attitude can be achieved an intense sensitizational program for members of the public. This is what the government has set to do through the Waste Management Strategy. This task needs collaboration between agencies of government, non- governmental organisations, private sector, the academic world and the business community.


I am aware that there are some intellectuals who are against clean up campaigns. I want to submit that clean up campaigns have a room in the waste management hierarchy in the Botswana context. Campaigns should not however be used as replacing all other steps in the hierarchy as it happens in some African countries. These campaigns are snap-shots of problem solving using a mass media approach such as participation of the community.
Clean Up Campaigns can be used as a gauge of the interest shown by the various communities towards a clean environment. They can be opportunities through which education-by-doing can be imparted to other sections of the communities such as children. They are vehicles of change and these can be used even in cleanliness competitions.
It is my submission that we must always consider clean up campaigns as viable activities that can enhance bonds of friendship. They can be used to attract the business communities who can only participate through sponsorship. They can also create a spirit of environmental friendliness in the young people, especially at a tender age.


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are at the end of a century and this is the right time to find the place of waste management in the arena of development. It is true that we have lamented for the proper positioning of waste management for a long time now. In some countries in Africa, there are no adequate structures for waste management service and administration.
It is still a wide practice to ignore the provision of waste management when developing new settlement, a shopping complex or even a new program. One example that can be cited is the Home Based Care Program of the AIDS CONTROL. It is evident that clinical wastes will be spread throughout the settlements and when this program was initiated, there was no thought on how to handle the wastes generated through that process.
In addition to the foregoing, new imported goods of development and advancement are imported from developed countries for consumption in developing countries. These goods invariably bring along with them wastes that were never thought of in the first place.
The phenomenon where waste management services are not provided for in budget allocation is inexcusable. There is a need for an affirmative allocation for this sector if we are to graduate from our state of lamentation. If we are to talk about African Renaissance, then we must first reposition waste management practices and services. Waste Management has to become part of infrastructure planning such as happens with water, sewage, streets, electricity, fire brigade and so forth.
Waste management continues to occupy a very low position in development yet there are many ratified international protocols and facilities such as: the Primary Health Care, Agenda 21, Healthy Cities Project, Health and Environment Strategy, annual Keep Botswana Clean Day, Clean Up the World Campaign, Basel Conventions, etc. These have failed to graduate waste management into the national protocols for a long time. What and where is the problem? I ask!


There is growing problem of scavenging in this country. The disturbing factor is that scavengers are rummage for food items at the disposal sites. These people go there with their children and go to the extend of staying there and even building some structures for over night stay. This is a great challenge in the trends of waste management in this country. It should be noted that scavenging itself is not a bad thing because it is the beginning step for reuse and recycling. This is therefore an area that needs a detailed follow up.


Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come when Batswana, and indeed, Africans must apply themselves as the created beings and not as the evolutionary offshoots. We must take pride in our environment for our own sake and not to strife for the white man’s standards; or to struggle to appease to tourists. Our lives should not be lived as a product of refinement against the European standards. This fact must be balanced, otherwise our living will only be an attachment to the living of a European or an American. In short we must be proud of our being and our environment.
The desire and pride of taking care of the environment will make Batswana realise that they have their own lives in their hands. There is no more time to be lamenting over the fact that we are not like Europeans. We cannot continue to blame them for selling us these things when we were the first ones to buy them.
I am convinced that African Renaissance demands that we take care of ourselves and our environment. This is called Environmental Stewardship. I have always maintained that this stewardship was bestowed to Humanity by Divinity and it will be folly and indeed a recipe for our own destruction to ignore or disregard it.


As we enter the new millennium, Botswana will have to open their borders to ensure the movement of hazardous wastes for further reprocessing. This can be done under the current provisions of the Basel Convention. I am aware of the Bamako Convention and its restrictive nature. This will need to be revisited in view of the fact that waste knows no boundaries and its total management means visitation to the countries that share the common boarders with this country.
This open door policy should be adopted by the continent of Africa. I am aware that there is no structured policy on Waste Management in many African states but I am convinced that it is time for economic groupings such as Southern African Development Community (SADC), Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS), Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), Commission for East and Southern Africa, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and others should consider instituting or strengthening the units that deal with environmental affairs in general or with waste management in particular. I am strongly convinced, ladies and gentlemen that we cannot talk of sustainable economic development without incorporating waste management. I am aware of the Brown Environment Strategy in SADC that is doing the rounds currently. Time is not with us. The major problem that beset Africa is the concept of prioritisation of life sustaining issues. This automatically means we leave others until the crises point. This is food for thought!! Let us understand that prioritisation does not mean abandonment.
Africans must come up with measures to know what is happening and collectively bargain for the remedial measures. What sometimes happens is the tendency to follow the strong colonial umbilical cord and hope for many answers from our colonisers in Europe. I am confident that Africans can come together to solve the nagging issues of waste management within their own context. The commonalties that are found in the regions of Africa are the strengths towards solving a lot of problems in waste management.
The open door policy will also facilitate our finding out the originators of many toxic wastes that still are harboured in our countries. This can be done in a holistic move as opposed to a piece meal situation. We have a duty to introduce the duty of care principles and make sure that no power will socialise the costs of cleaning Africa when they have literally privatised the profits emanating from their undertaking.
This can be done through the spirit of Renaissance that sponsors the recognition that we need to co-operate and stay united in our quest for development. We can only do so if we have an open door policy and an attitude of neighbourliness. This is what Africans should learn quickly so that the next millennium would be meaningful to us.
Waste Management and its hierarchy can not be achieved by a single country. There must be collaboration in order to maximise resources and minimise the costs. We are aware that recycling demands markets. These markets should be established in the neighbouring countries. It is only then that our economic groupings can be meaningful. To this end I recommend that our SADC group of nations should take the lead in standardising operations in the various fields of waste management.
We are in an era where humanity has suddenly realised that they are on a journey leading to nothingness. We are in an era where the Africans have all of sudden embraced a concept of renaissance. This is now called African Renaissance. This is good development. In the same spirit, ladies and gentlemen, there is a rebirth in waste management in the African context. Waste Management has become a new subject where there are many players I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that we are left with the task of convincing many of our African leaders and administrators that proper waste management practices are inseparable to sustainable development. This is not an easy task. We still have situations where some African countries sweep their wastes under the carpet only when dignitaries from across the boarders visit their countries
  • waste management is one of the few concepts that will be taken into the next century
  • the concept is forcing itself into the minds of people without giving an excuse
  • the concept of waste management has come about as a result of the combined aspirations of the various players
  • the African approach in waste management is at times very foreign to the mind frame of the Africans themselves
  • the current waste management hierarchy excludes the role of the communities in the African context
  • the African history of waste management seems not complete without the history of the same in Europe or America
  • there are some African countries which have adopted a system where parts of their cities enjoy first world class service when other parts don’t get any service at all
  • the subject of waste management has joined other services where those who are socially well-off are serviced first and the unfortunate poor are remembered late or as a result of crises, calamities or national pride
  • there are certain schemes, especially in recycling, where the actual beneficiary is the rich among rich somewhere far off and the toilers are the poor or the less privileged
  • technological advancement and social development have brought in certain streams of wastes that require urgent and sophisticated attention.
We are in an era where we as Africans must sit down, open our minds and find a place for waste management. The new millennium is ushering in a time when there will be no more finger pointing but problem solving.
The most important goal in all this will be to improve waste management practices and bring everybody along by keeping them abreast all the stages of development in the sector. This is a challenge to the practitioners of waste management in this era. It hinges on mass mobilisation; to those with European minds, this fact is a waste of time. My point is that we must involve the people and be patient with them as we develop our approach further.
Africans must come up with measures to know what is happening and collectively bargain for the remedial measures. What sometimes happens is the tendency to follow the strong colonial umbilical cord and hope for many answers from our colonisers in Europe. I call upon all of you to find solutions from within the region. The commonalties that are amongst us are the strengths towards solving a lot of problems in waste management.
Ladies and gentlemen, with these submissions, I rest my case. I thank you for your audience. May God bless you.