Gaborone City Council has to deal with an unusual sanitation problem of its own making as the coronavirus pandemic forces city residents to take extreme measure to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Fieldworkers in the Departments of Environmental Health, Parks and Recreation, Roads and Electrical Engineering are not provided with portable toilets as happens in other countries. For that reason, they have to rely on the generosity of Good Samaritans in the areas where they do field work. On a daily basis, the Department of Environmental Health dispatches garbage collectors who walk from street to street collecting garbage. The Department of Parks and Recreation maintains open spaces and looks after municipal trees – like the ones along the Western Bypass. The Department of Roads dispatches work gangs to maintain internal roads across town – mostly by filling up potholes. Likewise, technicians from the Department of Electrical Engineering spread out across town to fix street lights.
These workers have to answer both normal and urgent calls of nature.
From what Sunday Standard learns, these employees have formally complained to GCC management over the years about this situation but their concerns were never addressed. One such complaint was tabled as an action item at a Local Works Committee meeting but the intervention that the employees sought was never effected. However, the coronavirus situation presents a new challenge. With the spreading like wildfire around the world and with four cases and one death having been reported in Botswana, residents are no longer willing to allow GCC fieldworkers inside their houses and use their toilets.
“They say they don’t want to catch corona,” a source says of the jittery residents.
While re-litigating the decades-long inaction on the part of management might have its attractiveness, the more pressing issue now is on how this emergency has to be tackled. Even as Botswana goes into lockdown, there is still need to collect garbage, fix roads, water trees and fix streetlights during this phase. Precisely because of this lockdown and with President Mokgweetsi Masisi have recommended “extreme” social distancing for people in the country, GCC’s fieldworkers might not even get close enough to a house to ask to use the toilet.
Reached by phone, the Gaborone Mayor, Father Maphongo, said that he was not aware of the problem because it has not been raised with him.
“We attend to issues as they unfold and you would be aware that the lockdown was announced only yesterday,” said Maphongo, a specially elected councillor who assumed the mayoralty in November last year after the general election.
He added that the Council will be taking a good firm look at its processes in order to ensure that it can fully cater for those who will be working during the lockdown.
If nothing else, coronavirus is exposing the cost of normalising highly abnormal situations. A fortnight ago, Sunday Standard published a feature about how Botswana has long had laws with potential anti-coronavirus effect that have never been rigorously enforced. However, as Maphongo stresses, the life-and-death public health emergency that is coronavirus requires sole focus on solutions and not on who failed to do what in the past.