Picture Story: Ants by Sfiso Maggz

Have you ever watched a colony of ants, meticulously gathering the crumbs that you may have left behind on your kitchen counter while preparing that yummy lunch sandwich? Of course you have, we live in Africa and I’m yet to find a household not equipped with some sort of inset or bug repellent. But before you reached for your insect death in a can out frustration or sheer horror, did you take a moment to observe their actions? It takes them a little while, but they sure know how to wipe a surface clean… if you give them enough time that is.

Without a doubt, ants are amongst the most fascinating of creations, readily blessed with the immense strength to lift up or move over double and more than their weight. By definition then, if I were an ant, I would have the ability to lug 240kgs with the utmost of ease… splendid.

But, this is no Biology lesson. In the modern world we live in, the excesses of our consumer ways are plain to see. When used correctly, dustbins don’t have a moment to breath and dumpsites are a reminder that we’re ravaging the earth of its natural resources at an insane rate. Ever stopped to consider what happened to that fancy cardboard packaging that protected your fancy new flat screen TV? It had to go somewhere. How about those empty bottles of beer that christened another night with friends while watching the sport on that flat screen… or the stiff, multi-element box, which lovingly protected your new camera?

There exists a different breed of ant in the city and this kind cannot be exterminated with a cocktailed spray of tongue twisting ingredients. In fact, exterminating this ant would get you into the kind of trouble that will leave you scarred for life, unless you have hardened criminal tendencies. I watch them on a daily basis, pulling their loaded, hand crafted trollies with steadfast determination while cars whizz pass them fast and furiously. Driven by the hunger of poverty, they usually don’t take note of how dangerously close these said cars navigate next to them, as they focus on collecting as many boxes, papers and other recyclable bits that society tosses away without much thought. And what do we do when stuck behind them from within the comforts of our cars? We hoot, curse, scream and express our displeasure at them being on the road.

I would be the first to say that they have no right to disrupt traffic by maneuvering their unroadworthy carts on the road. There are all sorts of negative implications to their actions of being on the road, but, what choice do they have when they call the streets home?

Naturally, while I observe their actions, my trigger finger itches. Armed with a telephoto lens, photographing these ants from a distance allows me to be discrete and not impinge on their dignity. I could ask them for a portrait shot, but the speed at which they walk, even while hauling an overloaded cart, would shame the speed I run at. Usually, I catch sight of them from behind, to emphasis on the size of the loads they pull, but this fellow, perhaps suspicious of why I was carrying a camera, decided to look back… snapped!

As with ants, it’s only after they are done with their task, do you realize how much they’ve cleaned up on the mess created by us. The next time you’re driving along, sharing the road with those seemingly bus like carts, spare a moment for the person pulling it with all his might. The least we could do is give them a little respect.

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