Tuesday, October 27, 2020

‘Today’s tough economic times could be catalyst for change’

These are tough times, and the lamentations of a woman as she shuffled through a grocery store summed it all up.

“When did sorghum meal become so expensive,” she mused.

She kept on turning the price tags of the neatly stacked bags of sorghum as if to check if the price would somehow change miraculously. But the prices never changed, what she saw was the harsh reality and gravity of the situation that all citizens will have to grapple with; food prices have skyrocketed. She eventually gave up and walked away. But the food prices will remain the same, and it was highly likely that she would spend the night without a meal. The current high prices have hit consumers’ pockets hard. Many are being forced to cut back on their food budgets and routine household expenses. Some will have to dip into their savings to meet the escalating living expenses.  

The common phrase that keeps on cropping up in conversations is ‘times are tough.’ In tough times, people tend to look for the remaining pockets of comfort. In times like these, the financial sector sweeps through the frustration with a constant message to ‘save for a rainy day.’ The intent is to drive the point across that those who have saved a little money will be able to escape the depressing effects of such tough fiscal conditions. Using the 2014 World Bank figures, life expectancy at birth, defined as the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout, was estimated at 64 years in Botswana. A typical individual works for about 40 years, assuming that they start working at 23 years and retire at 60 years. Based on the life expectancy at birth age estimate, it could be assumed that an ordinary person lives for more or less the same number of years that they spend working. Perhaps this could explain why certain individuals don’t bother saving; because for as long as they are still alive and receiving salaries then they are guaranteed of a cushion against tough times.           

So I walked into Regina Sikalesele-Vaka’s office last week for an interview. It was not my first encounter with her and we exchanged a few pleasantries. I wanted to pick her brain on the current economic conditions but she beat me to it. 

“What do you think of the tough times we are in?” she asked.

Because I wasn’t any different from the woman at the grocery store, I expressed a passionate discontent about many things in our economy. She listened absorbedly and then took me completely by surprise when she replied “I think these are exciting times.”

“This is an opportunity for people to start thinking differently. If there was a way I could take the volume (tough times) up a notch I would,” she said with a straight face. Okay, she had my full attention and I must confess a bit of indignation.

Realising that I was bewildered by her ‘insensitive’ opinion, she continued: “We must all understand that we are the economy and as such our individual habits build up a cumulative force that drives the economy.”

She reminisced about the days gone by when Batswana used to be industrious; a trait she believes has been replaced by dependency on government and a huge entitlement mentality. She believes the tough times of today are an opportunity for change and for Batswana to adopt new ways of doing things.

“We should now ask ourselves where we are going from here. The problem with many of us is that we don’t want to make adjustments; we are clinging onto previous lifestyles. It’s time to change our priorities and redirect our finances. As soon as you enter the job market, you start thinking about savings,” she says.

Sikalesele-Vaka believes at 60 years of age one should have paid off their mortgage, education for their kids, all outstanding debts and should own a sound car. However for many people that’s not the case. May Batswana use their pension to pay for such expenses, which results in life going downhill after retirement.

“The biggest message I want to drive home is that these tough times are a call for change. Perhaps these tough times will serve as a catalyst for Batswana to demand changes that need to take place in the economy,” said Sikalesele-Vaka.

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The Telegraph October 28

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 28, 2020.