Saturday, May 28, 2022

“Does the Minister of Health think before talking?”

In reading the article entitled “BONELA shocked at Merafhe’s condom ban”, which appeared in the daily newspaper, Mmegi, of Tuesday 7th September 2010, I was shocked at what the article said and thought that probably the writer just misquoted the Vice President.

Before the shock of the blatant and insensitive assertion could dissipate, I was completely floored by the resolute public pronouncement by the Vice President that the Botswana government has no intention of considering issuing condoms to prisoners. This, the Vice President slapped the public with on National Television. What was even more shocking was the public discrediting of the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Reverend Setlalekgosi, a professional in the area of health by the Vice President. The Vice President publicly stated that the call by the Minister of Health for government to speed up the provision of condoms to prisoners was nothing but the minister’s uninformed personal opinion.

I say uniformed for the Vice President went on to make Batswana believe that the Minister of Health had purposefully misdirected himself and Batswana when he made the public declaration. The Vice President’s arguments seek support from what he claims to be displeasure from prisoners themselves who assert that they have families in the free world and therefore, what type of message would they be sending out to their loved ones were they to agitate for provision of condoms in their places of bondage?

Consequently, if what the Vice President has brought to light is to be believed then it means the Honorable Minister of Health has acted very dishonorably. How does a whole minister go on national television to make public pronouncements on a sensitive issue that has seen government and civil rights bodies, such as BONELA and the informed public go on a collision course without checking out the position of government first? Does it then mean that we as the public should start being cautious of what comes out of the honorable minister’s mouth and never take it as government’s stand or need we check it out first with the Vice President before we believe it at all?

There is something very curious about the Vice President’s logic about government not being convinced about giving condoms to prisons. The prisoners’ displeasure at being seen as practicing sodomy and publicly declaring this juicy piece of information to their loved ones actually perforates government’s arguments. Look at it this way, would you go public to tell your loved ones you are engaged in something society views as abominable? I didn’t think so. So how can we believe that indeed prisoners have come out to say they are not involved in sodomy? Does this mean all the ex-convicts who have poured out their souls about the horrid acts of sodomy happening in prisons were only attention seekers? There are also cases of people who get incarcerated being HIV negative but later test positive. Probably they got the virus from the oppressive prison air.

One other thing is that the Vice President and his stable have to understand is that prisoners too have rights. Incarceration does not revoke those rights. They have the right to good health, and the right to life without fear of death visited on them by the institutions that took away their freedom.

While governments across the globe especially in areas hardest hit by the pandemic are looking for any means to mitigate the pressures of the pandemic, the Botswana government exhibits intolerance and lack of appreciation of what non governmental organizations are doing to help curtail of the spread of the pandemic. Are we going to be held hostage by the moral beliefs and religious bigotry of a select few over what is logical?

As a responsible society we do not need to let prisoners tell us that they do or do not want condoms. What we need is to educate prisoners on the dangers of being involved in unprotected sex. It’s that simple. Therefore, we need to follow this up with making condoms accessible to convicts.

Enough of my personal opinions on what my government needs or needs not do. Governments know better, don’t they? So who is in charge of health issues in this country, the Minister of Health or the Vice President? And is the Minister of Health when ever he opens his mouth to speak on issues of public health and interventions not articulating government position or there are times when he is just dreaming aloud? When then do we as the public know he is just dreaming?

*David Keagakwa writes in his private capacity

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