Less than a week after the ban on alcohol sale was lifted, what the Coordinator of the Presidential COVID-19 Taskforce, Dr. Kereng Masupu, calls “di-chillas” (house parties) have already started. Beginning this weekend, the satellites that Masupu once spoke about on Btv would be sending back to Gaborone images of unusual traffic movement to and from farms. Covid-wise, it is just a matter of time before the obvious happens and Sir Ketumile Teaching Hospital’s capacity is once more severely strained. It is going to be even more interesting to see how the government deals with the unfolding situation outside a state of emergency context.
The powers-that-be would certainly have known that this was going to happen before. After all, we have all seen this happen over and over again. However, those powers have to make very tough choices. The liquor industry is very important to the national economy: it employs tens of thousands, sponsors sport, gives generously to charitable causes and in a country where alcohol consumption is high, generates the much-needed taxes for the government. However, alcohol is also one of the main reasons why it has been extremely difficult for Botswana to contain the spread of Covid-19. There are those who demand “scientific evidence” when this point is made but what they need is to merely observe (from a safe distance) how revellers conduct themselves. This past Thursday at a house party in Gaborone West, a boisterous group of eight maskless revellers formed a knot around a braai stand. Given the rate of alcohol consumption in Botswana and the popularity of merrymaking, there would have been many more such parties across the country.
A dark but accurate term can be used to describe what is happening with regard to Covid decision-making: human sacrifice. The government weighed the option of maintaining the alcohol ban to keep the infection and mortality rates down against opening up a trade that drives up both the infection and mortality rate. Ultimately, it opted for the latter knowing full well that some people are going to die as a direct result of such trade being conducted. Some people have been sacrificed.
While human sacrifice may actually not even be what some people consciously think about and plan for, it is the ultimate result. The finger of blame points at not just the powers-that-be but many more people. To be clear though, the former bear the greatest responsibility for much of the human sacrifice that is happening.
By far the most egregious human sacrifice is what happened five months ago when India became the epicentre of a new and deadlier strain of the virus – Delta. Those with the means started fleeing and some made a beeline for Botswana. At one level, the decision-making that was exercised by those who could have protected the nation and save more than 1000 lives reveals what could charitably be described as homicidal sociopathy.
India’s outbreak was all over the news and Botswana’s health officials are part of international information-sharing networks that would certainly have alerted them to this danger. Nothing happened in Mumbai that would not have been known to health officials in Gaborone. However, as Sunday Standard reported last week, the Ministry of Health and Wellness purposefully withheld vital information that could have saved lives from the Presidential COVID-19 Taskforce until it was way too late. Historically, Government Enclave battles have always put national interest in the back seat as senior civil servants seek to hoard and abuse power. Tragically, not even a pandemic that is claiming lives has been reason enough to declare a temporary ceasefire and focus on a new (and common) enemy.
Withholding that vital information from the Taskforce resulted in Indian arrivals sparking an outsized fire that the government is still trying to put out. This wouldn’t have happened if all arrivals from India had been thoroughly tested, if the Ministry of Health and Wellness had shared information with the Taskforce well on time and if borders had been made less porous. There is no way in the world that the individuals who precipitated this crisis would not have known what risk they were taking with people’s health and lives. There is no way they wouldn’t have known that such risk involved death. There will probably be customary redeployments but cases like this one show that Botswana is not imaginative in its use of the death penalty because the Delta crisis has elements of premeditated murder.
It would seem that the other part of the equation involved reasoning that the Indian arrivals were “investors” who have pumped a lot of money into the national economy and have created jobs. Not much thought was given to what else they may have been bringing into the country. The practical effect of the latter was human sacrifice.
Sacrificing the lives of health professionals may not have been anybody’s conscious decision but human sacrifice involving such professionals has been the result of failure to ensure that two years into the pandemic, they have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment. Not too long ago, the president of the Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) president, Obonolo Rahube, warned that lack of PPE at government health facilities may worsen the current Covid-19 situation if it is not addressed.
It is not just those in government who are sacrificing the lives of other human beings. Individuals who choose to ignore public health advice on Covid-19 and behave like it is still 2017 are also sacrificing the lives of the people they interact with. Tragically, that involves some young people sacrificing the lives of their own family members.
There has been no newspaper headline that says “Young people killing their grandparents” but the fact of the matter is that if a maskless 25-year old contracts Covid-19 after spending the whole weekend partying at a “secret location” with other maskless revellers, he may subsequently infect his grandmother – who might die. That point has actually been made before but in more delicate language. Contributing to a parliamentary debate on Covid-19, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Thulagano Segokgo, said that the infection rate was highest among the youth while the mortality rate was highest among the elderly. He determined this to be evidence that young people, who have a better chance of surviving the virus, were infecting the elderly – whose chances of surviving are very slim.