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Vision without action is a dream

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“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world,” Joel Barker, Scholar and futurist once said.

Viewpoint Wisdom Mdzungairi

A visionary leader, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black President after spending 27 years in prison on charges of crimes against the country’s former apartheid government.

After his release in 1990, Mandela continued his activism, speaking widely against poverty, environment and inequality.

At his inauguration as president in 1994, he said: “Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom.”

I happened to be at the landmark World Summit on Sustainable Development on August 28, 2002, when Mandela delivered his keynote address at the WaterDome saying: “That our government has made significant progress in bringing potable water nearer to so many more people than was previously the case, I rate amongst the most important achievements of democracy in our country.”

His speech would later become known as “No Water, No Future”.

The man was deeply connected to the earth on a personal level. He was an avid gardener, including throughout his long imprisonment.

It is public knowledge that while at Pollsmoor prison 1982-1988, he argued for the right to plant a garden on the prison’s rooftop and was finally permitted to plant vegetables — “onions, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and much more”.

On this victory, he later wrote in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom: “To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple, but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”

At his 89th birthday, Mandela brought together a group of renowned statesmen, human rights advocates and others to form an organisation known as The Elders, which has since tackled, among other issues, environmental degradation and climate change.

And during the week that Mandela passed on, Friends of the Environment organised a Walkathon from Harare to Mt Darwin aimed at raising awareness on the importance of tree planting and avoiding deforestation. The campaign seeks to plant over 500 million trees per year around Zimbabwe.

Indeed, when history is written, this organisation together with Mandela will no doubt be among the world’s sustainable development champions.

Forests and trees are essential to the health and livability of our cities and towns. They purify the air we breathe and the water we drink. Trees improve property values, stabilise soil erosion, and even reduce crime and blight. In fact, trees are one of the most sensible investments a community can make in its own future.

The inaugural walkathon began in Gweru in 2010. It is hoped that the organisation will not lose sight on the importance of engaging stakeholders at every level of society. Tree planting does not require a great deal of money or technology — it requires the mobilisation of citizens to plant trees and nurture them.

The organisation’s chairman Tendai Kanjanda indicated that Zimbabwe is losing about 330 hectares of forest annually and urged communities to participate in tree planting.

Mashonaland Central where this year’s walkathon climaxed, will plant 22 000 trees.

Environment, Water and Climate Change minister Saviour Kasukuwere urged tobacco farmers to use alternative energy sources. While the organisation aims to plant 500 million trees annually, Kasukuwere’s ministry is targeting to plant at least 10 million trees.

This annual walkathon has been a great success. It has raised awareness and inspired action throughout the country. It has far surpassed the original goal — millions of trees have been planted by people from all walks of life —schoolchildren to President Robert Mugabe —testament to a growing movement for sustainability.

We will need just this kind of commitment if we are to guarantee that Zimbabwe can continue to provide the foundation needed to reduce poverty and improve security and opportunity for all.

The reason being the oldest living organisms on Earth are trees. Nearly all forms of land-based life depend upon trees in one way or another. Even the way we view the world owes so much to trees. People speak of having roots.

Our families are organised into trees and branches. Businesses use seed capital to take root and spread out. Trees are such a part of our everyday lives that sometimes we hardly notice that they are there. But we notice them when they are gone. Trees help us maintain stable and healthy landscapes, through preventing soil erosion and degradation. They are a natural shelter for wildlife and a haven for biodiversity. They are a genetic database, a store of natural products which have benefited mankind for millennia and others which have yet to be discovered.

And they act as massive, natural air filters, absorbing impurities and locking away the harmful carbon which so contributes to the biggest threat we face on our planet today — climate change.

It is time to take a stand for the environment and prove that the story of humanity on Earth is not one of inexorable environmental exploitation and decline — but with will and purpose, can be a story of stewardship and protection. Calling for ‘work, bread, water and salt for all’ — in effect, the equitable distribution of resources — Mandela demonstrated the seeds that would later grow into a staunch commitment to the cause of the environment and sustainable development.

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