It would have been less complicated for Vice President Slumber Tsogwane to admit that the COVID-19 regulations whose legislative passage he helped clear earlier this month are being flouted right under his nose. Instead, he chose an ill-advised course of action that further complicates the problem that our May 17 article described.
Headlined“Mask-wearing law being flouted right at OP in front of VP”, the article described how some COVID-19 health measures, namely the wearing of masks and extreme social distancing, were being flouted at mock-cheque presentation ceremonies that feature Tsogwane. Clearly, the Vice President didn’t like the article – it is more than likely he took personal offence – and at another ceremony last Wednesday, went after Sunday Standard, impugning the paper’s professional integrity.
“Let me remind those who have the skills of writing that they must write today that, not under my nose, have we broken a single rule here by not putting on masks – not on a single day,” said Tsogwane when officiating a mock-cheque presentation at the Office of the President. “So, that narration which was on Sunday Standard must be corrected. We have always – since the law was enacted – we have always abide by the rule, coming here and putting on our masks. So I hope those who have the skills of writing will do that noble job of correcting that.”
Waving his finger in the air to stress his point, he continued: “I don’t see a single person here who is not putting on a mask. So, it’s wrong; it’s not correct. It’s not [inaudible], it’s not assisting us in any way, we are abiding by the rule. We are gathered here, we know we have the numbers, we are not even beyond the numbers that are stipulated in the regulations. Having said, that ladies and gentlemen …”
It is unclear why he had to personally appeal those with a skill of writing to absolve him of blame because as Vice President, Tsogwane has a lot of power. On Tuesday, two days after the story came out, he was Acting President as President Mokgweetsi Masisi attended a SADC security summit in Harare, Zimbabwe. Tsogwane had to merely instruct the Botswana Government Communication and Information System, which is headed by a published writer, to apply its storied tradition of issuing the standard “puso-e-kgadile-e-sa-kgwe- mathe” rebuttal. The latter became the staple of prime-time news bulletins on Radio Botswana during the presidency of Ian Khama. As unclear still is why Tsogwane would choose to deny something that happened and can be easily proven because there is a lot of photographic evidence – some of which we publish here. The latter could possibly be the reason why the rebuttal (such as it is) comes not from BGCIS but Tsogwane himself.
As we await those at OP with the skills of writing to write that not under Tsogwane’s nose has a single COVID-19 rule been broken by not putting on masks, it may be useful to parse the language that he used at the Wednesday mock-cheque presentation ceremony in service of illuminating this issue.
Claim 1: “… not under my nose have we broken a single rule here by not putting on masks – not on a single day.”
Fact: The figurative English expression, “under nose”, means right in front of someone. The pictures published here show that mask-wearing law was broken right under Tsogwane’s nose.He is right about “not a single rule” being broken because two were: mask-wearing and extreme social distancing.
Claim 2: “… that narration which was on Sunday Standard must be corrected.”
Fact: This claim implies that the narration is false – ironically, what is false and demonstrably so, is what Tsogwane said.
Claim 3: “We have always – since the law was enacted – we have always abide by the rule, coming here and putting on our masks.”
Fact: The Vice President is stealthily deploying a logical fallacy. Our article was very clear about who is breaking the law (donors) and clearly stated that Tsogwane himself wears it. “We” is a generalisation that conflates OP officials with donors when the article didn’t so conflate the parties. In the event “we” refers to OP officials only, there is evidence to the contrary. One picture shows the Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Meshack Mthimkhuku not wearing his mask in the legally-stipulated manner. “Always” means all the time and can’t certainly be used to describe an action that is done inconsistently.
Claim 4: “I hope that those who have the skills of writing will do that noble job of correcting that.”
Fact: We can’t dictate to OP how it should deploy the services of those of its employees who have the skills of writing and we remain clueless about its standards of nobility. However, under normal circumstances, there can’t be anything noble about denying something that happened in public and was witnessed by the nation via various public media. From where we stand, it would have been noble for Tsogwane to accept that flouting protective behaviours during an unprecedented life-and-death public health emergency was a grave mistake that he had to ensure doesn’t ever happen again.
There is nothing to correct because what we published last week is entirely accurate. The Vice President may not be aware of this but our article merely echoed and amplified genuine concern that is being widely expressed online by level-headed people who don’t communicate their thoughts in emojis and unpunctuated, lower-case Facebook-ese. Sunday Standard posted a video clip of Tsogwane attacking it to its Facebook page and some comments disprove his claim with illustrations of numerous pictures that show of the mask-law being broken at OP, right under his nose.
Claim 5: “I don’t see a single person here who is not putting on a mask.”
Fact: Another logical fallacy. The Vice President was right about all people at the Wednesday event wearing a mask but the article in question referred not to May 20 but May 12. What the May 12 article said can’t be discredited because it motivated the compliance witnessed on May 20.
As the first parliamentary session showed, MPs can definitely not be relied upon to rescue the nation from this unprecedented crisis. However, Tsogwane is in a class all his own and his custodianship of Botswana laws is on an elevated plane. Having been first elected in 1999, he is the longest-serving MP and until April 1, 2018, was the Father of House, a title that is traditionally bestowed on the senior member of Commonwealth parliament who has the longest continuous service. As VP, he is the ex-officio Leader of the House, with the responsibility of organising government business and providing time for non-government (backbench) business to be put before the house. At its recent special sitting, the house that Tsogwane is leader of enacted The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 (government business that he organised) which require everyone to wear a cloth face mask.
On another level, Tsogwane’s denial of something that actually happened has a deeply disturbing Trumpian dimension to it. In word and deed, Donald Trump, the United States president, has confused Americans by deviating from standard, globally-practised COVID-19 health measures. In fairness to Tsogwane, he has not personally deviated from such protocols as Trump so brazenly has but he has allowed the flouting of those measures to occur right under his nose. Launching another one of his ritualistic attacks on the media in the pre-COVID-19 period, Trump asked his supporters to not believe what they saw with their own eyes: “Don’t believe what you see.” COVID-19 health measures were flouted at OP right under Tsogwane’s nose and he is now asking the nation to not believe that they saw that happen with their own eyes.
With regard to which narration has to be corrected, it is certainly one that the Vice President retailed to the nation on Wednesday morning. Otherwise, some people might begin to think that there is nothing wrong with wearing a face mask around your neck, and not over your nose and mouth. As the second most powerful person in the country, a Vice President has enormous power and influence, especially on people who look up to leaders for life-saving information during an unprecedented life-and-death public health emergency. The mock-cheque presentation ceremonies at OP are covered by the media, including state media (Btv and Daily News) which reaches well over two million people. Some people are definitely going to be confused by what the appropriate protective behaviours are on solely on the basis of what Tsogwane said.
In using his bully pulpit to ill-advisedly peddle a falsehood, punish responsible journalism and muddle up the COVID-19 public health messaging, Tsogwane is also bringing the presidency into disrepute and exposing himself to personal attacks. This being the digital age, some social-media commentators are (ab)using their post-April-2018 freedom of speech to the fullest – and inflicting collateral damage on Mthimkhulu. On the Sunday Standard Facebook page, one snarky comment, expressed in slang, is to the effect that “Mthimkhuku o lengisitse” – that he is stylishly sagging his trousers.
Interestingly, Tsogwane could have saved himself the embarrassment he brought upon the presidency and himself by doing one very simple thing: heeding the advice explicitly expressed in the article by ensuring compliance with the regulations and not saying anything about the article thereafter. We actually had no plans for a follow-up story because our expectation that was the article’s good-faith criticism would motivate corrective action. Funny enough, to the extent masks are now being worn and worn properly at the ceremonies in question, such objective was achieved. (The social distancing remains inadequate.) However, evidently displeased with the article, Tsogwane felt the need to save face by peddling a blatant falsehood.