Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, ponders the nationwide devastation wrought by ex-Dineo, her unchecked tempestuous depredation, and expresses his shock at national unpreparedness for this catastrophe, arguing that this horror, and its merciless cutting blade, tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at feeble BDP policy institutions, reflects lack of planning, the absence of fences and defence mechanisms against disasters, poor knowledge about the hazards of nature, and BDP flagrant disregard for human effort and national dignity.
The first part of the title comes from a novel by Bessie Head, a South African exile writer who lived and died in Serowe. I am very glad to note her works still hold place of pride at UB, no, not UB at Gaborone, but the University of Buffalo, in the US. There is nothing more fascinating to students of African literature these days than the literature of exile and refuge studies, and Head, sits among the pantheon of literary giants whose works still evoke tremendous intellectual fascination in both the West and Africa.
She had such a delicately sensitive feel about the land and people of her adopted political home, Botswana, that many still regard her as our only literary voice. South Africans, of course, don’t want to hear about this, and already they have usurped her genius and firmly implanted it in their canon and national consciousness, naming libraries and streets after her to promote public admiration and readership of her works. What do the people of Serowe have to say about that, I wonder? BDP government does not care.
As far as they are concerned she never lived here, she means nothing to our cultural heritage. Oh, boy, talk about ignorance. Can anyone imagine British authorities allowing Poland to do the same thing with that celebrated genius, Joseph Conrad? Enough about literary gems we will most probably never possess. Let’s get down to more mundane things; rain, rain, rain; and the horror, the horror!
Well, my grandma, Balebi Thapelo, also had a very strong and rather feverishly sensitive feel about our land. She was, I should think, a very spiritual woman. Trouble with her religion of things, was that it intermingled with too much booze. I witnessed the remaining part of her spiritual journey towards the declining years of her life, and just when I had managed to pluck enough courage to put her through a thorough interview about the whole mystical business she died. That saddened me a great deal.
To date she is the only person whose funeral I attended. One thing though stays in my memory, her stupefying knowledge of gathering clouds and impending rains. In this field she was miles ahead of Radithupa Radithupa. She rarely erred. Come every rain season, and we were in for great drama. I wonder if my family siblings still remember those mind-boggling escapades. The most fascinating thing is that hers was always a solo fetishism. She demanded no audience. We the kiddies could gather around her and enthusiastically clap our hands to her gyrations but you were not allowed to ask any questions; as I said she was a true weather woman.
Try to interfere with her furious dance and strenuous invocations of the rain and the river gods, and you could easily lose a leg. Everything was very solemn, just the way they do things at St Peters Square in the Vatican City, and we lived at Jacklas Number 1 village, right here in good old Botswana. Like most kids we feared the roar of thunder, and granny could imitate it; perfectly, and fearfully, substituting along the way the even more ferociously roars of lions, and yelling of hyenas; a perfect cacophony, but symphony to her ears.
In this way she taught us that even wild animals feared thunder. That man had good reason to fear and welcome thunder at the same time, it was the way of the world, the only way to live with turbulent, and unpredictable nature. Whenever the rain season started approaching she would insist all the huts be fortified with mud and cow dung. Stone bricks were also used. The whole thorn yard fence had to be overhauled; rotting corner poles replaced. Tall trees in the neighbourhood pruned.
It was heavy work, and we all did it; grandma breathing on our backs like an army general. Of course we grumbled a lot, and my uncles’ wives worried she was using up seed for ploughing to brew her ‘religious beer,’ but she stuck to her guns like a true commander in chief. I learnt early at home there is no government without critics, and I enjoyed it all. It was good education. It prepared me for the world of the future, the world of today; the world of tomorrow.
Grandma was the family matriarch, and she did her job well. By the time I was eight I had learnt to respect thunder, and I could take out our cows to grass, clad in a very heavy but very useful sack raincoat, and when it started raining, and the cows started gambolling about mooing wild-to dissipate their own fear of thunder, I would just sit on a rock and watch them dance till they tired, and started falling into small tribal groups for mutual protection and assurance. All these things I learnt from my grandma. They made my life easy, and happy.
I always felt safe because I trusted her government and her religion of things. I only regret I never had the chance to talk to her about these things. I always noted the roll of thunder would go on accompanying her performance till she fell to the ground exhausted, or dead drunk, or possessed by some awfully powerful spirit, or all these things combined, and then, lo and behold, the heavens would open, and at times it could rain non-stop for days and nights. We always had a hard time of it lifting her and taking her to her shrine. Like all governments she was big. Oh, those were thrilling times.
I have been thinking about these dramatic personal experiences the past few days as our country was going through the most magnificent, and equally frightening, heavenly showers in living memory. I also took the trouble, whenever I could, to venture out and witness this unfolding drama first hand. Drama? Well, those of us who grew up on that stupendous intellectual extravaganza, Greek literature, will no doubt see what I mean; read Homer’s Odyssey.
Batswana who know nothing about Homer must still have seen something of his stunning apprehension of the world of man and nature in the continuing struggle for survival on planet earth these past few days as ex-Dineo hit home with garrulous impetuosity tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, knocking down doors, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at Government Enclave and generally making our lives miserable. Oh, I know some people are hurting, terribly, and I sympathise.
But we did say we wanted rain. Radithupa warned us to expect a deluge of it nationwide; a perfect storm in the tradition of Hollywood films, and we did nothing to prepare ourselves. Grandma would have done a good job of yelling, cajoling and putting up fences and defence mechanisms in place to avert disaster. It would appear to me the fact it caught us napping is no reason we should be cursing heaven. We have got only ourselves to blame. In a world so full of dangers and risks people must always be prepared for anything.
In fact by definition human life is temporal, mortal, existential, and mostly insignificant in the face of assault by the elements, especially water and fire. If we don’t evolve safety measures to protect ourselves then we do not have anyone to blame but ourselves. Government should take the lead in building such defence mechanisms and educating people about the hazards of nature, but BDP is not the sort of government up to such tasks.
Keep looking up to them for protection and guidance and you will find yourselves sheltering under one huge blanket, donated by Indians, the next time another cyclone, another Dineo comes visiting. What good will that do? Ask the people of Mozambique what a really furious hurricane can do. A blanket, no matter how well knitted, will just not do. I doubt even Homer would have cast BDP in his works; they are just too dismal characters. I miss my grandma’s government.
Homer would not have had much trouble casting grandma in his work, even the weathermen of our time. The rain season is a unique experience. Most Batswana think about it only in terms of ploughing and harvesting. That is not good enough, and the present season clearly demonstrates why we should evolve a new convention with nature when it comes to this time of the year. If we don’t, there is no telling what is going to happen to both our lives and our properties in the future, to both our land and country in the future, and to both our universe and planet in the future.
These are fearful things to put to people who have up to now taken such things for granted. In other parts of the world already people do things differently. Let us not wait for a national catastrophe to hit home before we put the necessary defensive mechanisms in place. I doubt though Government Enclave will heed this call. Unlike Grandma’s authority, these people are really not a government. They are a social club; a gormandizing social club. So long as their stomachs are full they never care about tomorrow, they never plan ahead, and this explains the horrors of ex-Dineo in many parts of our country.
A few incidents awakened my personal consciousness to the gravity of floods in the face of relentless rainfall and devastating rolls of thunder. I did not even know some parts of Botswana are so prone to lightning. Had I interviewed my grandma, no doubt I’d be already a very informed man about these things. Unfortunately I didn’t, and now remains the task to spend long hours poring over literature in public libraries. No matter. I am used to this sort of thing.
As soon as reports of floods and public damage started filtering in through social media, I raised my antennae, broadened my intellectual radar, and hit the road. The precautions I took along the way, excluding the sack raincoat, I learnt from my grandma. In one plain field I encountered an old woman with about three Zimbabwean help hands. She didn’t mind my enquiries about the feel of the land. Also I had good chilled water to which she seemed very partial. So we conversed freely.
The clouds were dark, and heavy, and I knew I had to be careful. It could rainy anytime. She, however, was not concerned with that. Her concentration was on the soil. She took a pinch of it and ate it. I was so startled I must have ejaculated my astonishment. Grandma used to do exactly the same thing. I saw her roll the dirt round her mouth, and, I think, she swallowed some of it. The remaining bit she spat to the ground with knowing satisfaction, and a very grave face. Then she shaded her poor eyes with her right hand, and looked at the gathering clouds for several seconds. After a heavy sigh, she waddled to her dilapidated truck and collapsed into the front seat.
I followed her and put a direct question to her about that startling incident. She tried to dodge it. So I explained about my grandma. She listened to me very carefully, asked a few questions of her own, and I answered as best I could. It soon transpired she came from Matebeleng village in Mochudi. She spoke both Ikalanga and IsiNdebele well. She told me all she thought she knew about people like my grandma, and her quaint religion. I know Matebeleng well but I did not let this out. In a way I was not surprised.
Her field is just on the road to that village, and my guide had informed me I would probably meet only people from the neighbourhood in our trip. But I had hit a jackpot. This old woman seemed to be cut from the same cloth as my grandma. Unfortunately she clumped her mouth shut soon as she realized I had company; the local guide. They started arguing about some old money debt, till we left. Once again I had failed to connect with my ancestral past regarding the rituals of rainfall. When it started raining I was already on my way home, and a very disturbed man.
That evening, and in subsequent news, I really was not surprised by the devastation shown on television. Thanks to my grandma I had read the signs well. What shocked me was the level of unpreparedness throughout the whole country. Just what good is our government? What do these people do on a normal day? Who really are these people? Are they Africans? Did any of them go to any schools? What do they want in office? How come the nation is so vulnerable and the whole country so fragile? Ai madoda, I really do miss my grandma’s government.
This is not the way to live. People can just not get anyway this way. There’s terrible rot in our political system, in our public institutions and moral consciousness as a nation and a republic. If we don’t change the way we do things, and do so fast, there is no telling where we will be as a people in five years’ time. I mean who wants to build a house today and have it ruined tomorrow? Who wants to travel a road today and see it destroyed tomorrow? Who wants to build a bridge today and see it collapsed tomorrow? Who really wants to live in a world of futility? Why do we permit these fatal arrangements? What is wrong with us? Why can’t we create enduring things? Why do we hate beautiful and useful things?
Take Nata for example. It is a long time since I travelled that part of the country. But I loved it enough to write some reasonable good and memorable poems about my adventures there: One night in a lodge Is all it takes to savour A country feel to my land One amazing ride in the river Bathing off the spleen of rage And sleepless nights Is all it takes to savour A pleasant bush….
A blinding beauty Blighted my sight This day Marooned Amid flamingo bird And barren wasteland A transit landscape Fit only for the intrepid spirit Possessed of passions Infinite In a rugged land Of mysterious trunked trees Robust flowers Of an age….
The girl flirts about the green field, And screws up her lips Into a raw pout of tenderness, Playing a dialogue of wanton carelessness, And watching her, I fear tomorrow There shall be tears upon this score….
I remember well, my bothers The luxurious sturdiness of childhood, But why remind me old age, Of the disastrous sojourns of time past, At this hour of truth, When I stand an indistinct spectre, In the cruel theatre of life, And one foot in the grave, When the bones now can only rattle in the body?
I just picked out four parts from my poems; A Country Feel About my Land, Makgadikgadi Pans, Foul Field and Memoriam, from my collection of poems, Black Sunlight, and all these were written during that memorable trip to Nata and beyond. Later on I would write the 600 words poem Okavango Delta which won a literary award.
This is what natural beauty does for people who care about their country, it inspires them, it makes them human, it gives them culture and knowledge. So you can guess how I felt when I saw want happened to the land and people of Nata and surrounding areas; poor planning and ignorance killing hope and human livelihoods. Who should I blame for this negligence but BDP?
I am angry, and disappointed. But that is what BDP wants. They trade in misery of citizens. People in that region are mostly very poor. They need help, desperately. But I can bet my last coin nobody is going to help them get out of this rut. The land there is beautiful and rewarding. But nobody is going to do the best they can to put things to rights after these horrible floods and destruction.
How sad. How truly sad.
Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of Seasons of Thunder and the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org