Wednesday, October 21, 2020

In one week, police charge 167 for failure to wear masks

The chief spokesperson of the Botswana Police Service, Dipheko Motube, says that the police charged 167 people across the country for failure to wear face masks between June 22 and 27.

“Most of the offences occurred in South Central,” said Motube, who holds the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police.

Part of the Greater Gaborone area according to the COVID-19 map, South Central excludes Molepolole, Kanye and Lobatse. As regards why the offense rate for mask law is highest in Gaborone, Motube gave population size as the reason. The 2011 population and housing census puts the Gaborone population at 231 000 but it would be much higher a decade later.

While he didn’t have figures at his fingertips, Motube also revealed that some other people have been charged for failing to observe social distancing as stipulated in the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020. The latter is a COVID-19 law whose enforcement is the responsibility of the police. On the whole, Motube says that the police are responsible for the enforcement of all public health guidelines that are stipulated in the Regulations, which gained legislative passage at a special sitting of parliament in May. The latter revelation was prompted by a question of whether the police are also responsible for enforcing social distancing. At least from our determination, most members of the public (especially drinker groups that have gone back to forming hazardous knots outside bars in the evenings) don’t seem to realise that failing to observe social distancing is an offence. The Regulations also stipulate trading hours and permissible number of people at gatherings. Motube mentions the latter among provisions that they have had to enforce.

An already overwhelmed police service has had to take on additional law enforcement challenges as a direct result of COVID-19. When President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an incremental stay-at-home order that started with just 28 days but was extended, some people took liberties with the COVID-19 regulations. With all liquor establishments shut down, home breweries (themselves presenting a food-security threat) popped up across the country. Motube says that between April and June in the North Central (Tswapong) area, the police had to tamp down the brewing of traditional beer, notably a type of wine made from water melons which is called setopoti. It so happened that the period in question is the harvest season and there were more than enough water melons to make setopoti. The BPS spokesperson adds that towards the end of that three-month period, the setopoti problem spread to the neighbouring villages of Palapye and Mahalapye.

Despite effort by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to educate members of the public about the deadliness of COVID-19 and the enactment of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020, there are still people who ignore recommended public health protocols and wilfully disobey the law. Ironically, these people are aware of the dysfunction of an overwhelmed public health system that they would have to turn to if they get infected.

Much to the chagrin of the Sefhare-Ramokgonami MP, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, those caught breaking mask-wearing law have had to pay between P1000 and P5000. Contributing to the debate of the COVID-19 regulations during a special parliamentary sitting, Gobotswang, who is also the Deputy President of the Botswana Congress Party, said that rather than punish people, the government should instead provide education for why it was necessary for them to wear masks. 

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