Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lockdown in South Africa good for Botswana

Most Batswana seem to have familiarized themselves with the use of the word “lockdown” which they hear every day in their radio and television sets. The word gained its popularity in China at the beginning of the outbreak of Covid-19 or corona virus in Wuhan, Hubei Province. The only word which is near lockdown which most Batswana are familiar with is lockup (imprisonment) because every day offenders are locked up. Lockdown and lockup have similarities here and there.  Lockup is for offenders but it also restricts somebody’s movements. Lockdown seems dictatorial as it infringes on people’s rights. But it is aimed at providing safety measures by reducing the number of infections. Although it is stringent, it helps to contain the virus.

Countries the world over are either toying with the idea of lockdown or have locked down their countries or parts of their countries with a view to containing the spread of corona virus. Italy and other European countries are on lockdown. In Africa, Tunisia, Rwanda and South Africa are on lockdown.  Senegal was this week said to be toying with the idea of lockdown. South Africa started by declaring a national state of disaster. Just before the country was placed on lockdown, opinion leaders in that country were already complaining about the delay in putting stringent measures in place because of the ever increasing numbers of the infected. They spoke of the imposition of state of emergency. A journalist at NwezRoom Afrika, J.J. Tabane asked, “if Rwanda with only 17 cases of infection can be placed on lockdown, why can’t South Africa with 274 cases of infection do the same”? His other question was “what should happen first in order for the country to be placed on lockdown”.

The Oxford dictionary describes the word lockdown as a situation in which restrictions are placed on movements or actions. It does not distinguish between human, domestic or wildlife movements. This means that although the word lockdown was not in the government’s vocabulary when in the 90s, it imposed restriction on the movements of cattle in the Ngami area because of outbreak of foot and mouth and cattle lung diseases, that part of the country was placed on lockdown specifically for cattle. All other areas which had been zoned and fenced because of the outbreak of the two diseases at different occasions were totally placed on lockdown.

If my memory serves me well, there has never been any place in an independent Botswana that was placed on lockdown for human movement. This may explain why the word lockdown has just begun to reach the ears of most Batswana. Its usage has never been as widespread as is the case at present.

However, certain areas of this country may have been placed on lockdown during the protectorate days when Africa was ravaged by the outbreak of smallpox, sekonkonyane in Setswana. When I grew up in Mochudi, I realized that three uncles of mine, Leube Kgamanyane, Balotlhanyi Pilane and Thari Kgamanyane’s faces bore scares of smallpox. They are deceased. My grandparent Mmakgotha Kgamanyane who is also deceased, told me then that there had been an outbreak of smallpox in the Lentsweletau and Kgope areas of the Kweneng District in the early 50s. Our cattle post was near those affected areas of the Kweneng District resulting with the three uncles and many other people in the Kgatleng District who were residing on the border with Kweneng getting infected.

Following the outbreak of smallpox, parts of the Kgatleng and Kweneng Districts, especially Lentsweletau and Kgope were placed on lockdown because movement of people between Mochudi, Kgope and Letsweletau was restricted. People were not allowed to move in and out of the affected areas. A directive had been issued to the effect that in the event of death of those in lockdown areas their bodies should not be brought to Mochudi for burial. They were to be buried at the cattle posts immediately after death even if family members were absent.

Johnson Lebakeng takes the story of the smallpox outbreak further. He grew up at Kgope, the epic centre of the outbreak. His elder brother called Ntono was one of the many who succumbed to smallpox disease. He can vividly recall that the outbreak was spread along areas in the Kopong, Boswelakgosi, Kgope and Lentsweletau, forcing people in some of those areas to flee to a small village called Ramankhuu, north east of Lentsweletau. His version is that my uncles were infected when they had crossed into the Kweneng District to check on his brother who was seriously ill. This means that my uncles imported the disease into the Kgatleng and infected many others in their locality.

Movement of people from country to country was minimal during those days. The population was small. So it was easy to contain the virus. The chief’s word was taken as law and was obeyed without being questioned. In most cases, people visited countries in their proximity only. But following the outbreak of smallpox, visitors were expected to be in possession of smallpox certificate as prove that they had been vaccinated against the disease. Vaccination campaign was carried out on children at Bechuanaland schools as preventative measures. It was in 1978 that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication declared Botswana free of the disease. That followed the smallpox eradication seminar held in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo in 1968.

Because of lady luck, Botswana is still free of corona virus. This does not mean we are immune. The actions of the current government show that we are not sitting on our laurels. At the weekend, it announced a wide range of measures aimed at preventing infection of the disease. It continues to add more. The measures in place so far include complete shutdown of bars where a lot of indiscipline among patrons takes place. Those measures were announced on Friday afternoon and only reached Mochudi the following day.  By the time they arrived bars were already in full swing with patrons jiving to the tunes from juke boxes while others were playing pool.  Happily upon being alerted of the newly gazette regulations, bar operators acted swiftly by not opening on Sunday. This compliance is commendable.

But there were noticeable pockets of lawlessness in some areas of Mochudi where shebeens remained opened in total disregard of lawful order. I counted three shebeens operating in full swing in the Mosanta area of Mochudi. The dictionary defines the word shebeen as a place where alcoholic drinks are sold, usually illegally. So if they are illegal by their nature and compound the situation by defying extraordinary lawful order, it now calls for imprisonment rather than fines. The world is in a difficult situation at the moment. There should be no compromises between the police as law enforcement agencies of the state and the perpetrators who are looking only at short term benefits at the expense of the nation. Not only that, border patrols must be intensified to ensure that border jumpers do not find their way into Botswana. There has been laxity on the part of the security forces on border patrols. This is not the time to sleep if we are to contain the virus.

I must converse that I was one of the people who were worried and frightened by Moria in South Africa during the coming Easter weekend. Moria is the headquarters of the two Zion Christian Churches. Their annual pilgrimage falls on Easter weekend. It understood the pilgrimage attracts about 20 million of worshippers from all over South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. From Botswana, the numbers are not certain. But putting the estimates at close to two hundred thousand people from all over the country may not be too far. Imagine such a huge number congregating at one place.

Would anyone say during this period of corona virus, they would all of them emerge from the trip unscathed?  That would be a fallacious argument. A South African television channel, eNCA hailed the ZCC move to cancel the annual pilgrimage as significant considering the numbers which were to assemble there. The channel made that observation because they are aware that the ZCC annual pilgrimage is always a headache to the South African police and transport officials. For instance, last year the country’s radio and television stations continuously ran spot announcement informing those planning to travel from on the Easter Monday that it was better they started departing wherever they were at noon because the two ZCCs were to disperse at 3 o clock in the afternoon. Besides the two ZCCs, there are other churches which attract large following like the ST Johns and ST Pauls as well as the Independent Pentecostal Church (IPC).

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.