Local novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo* who researched part of his PhD thesis on certain aspects of Selibe-Phikwe a few years ago when the township was on the verge of economic collapse, and later dramatized this experience in his polyphonic novel, Seasons of Thunder, returns to the mining town only to encounter a terrifying wave of puzzlement and consternation.
Twenty years ago the question in everyone’s mind was, will the mine close or not? Today, following the abrupt closure of the mine bewildered residents are asking themselves, will the town die or won’t it, and nobody has a satisfactory answer to this nerve-racking existential question; not the BDP government, not the residents, and many are already returning to reclaim their roots in homelands left in the bush donkey years ago-a town founded on seismic fault lines has disappointed them and ruined lives, hopes and dreams of three generations.
The state of worry is a mark of both distinction and distress in chaotic society; distinction because among the ruins of such a society some people still manage to stand out no matter how desperate the situation is, and distress because many simply crumble and die, so that even when they are still standing and talking, walking about, and even laughing a little bit like everybody else, the spirit of life, the very soul of human life, departs, and what we really see are phantoms mingling about, senseless and irresolute in the midst of desperate ruination and despair.
Trouble is most such sorts of living forms are unfortunately usually smothered out of existence altogether through the wicked workings of linguistic register, the phony nature of medical science, and the general wilderness of inefficient words; words that often designate living people as dead, and the dead as living, it’s really a serious problem. The case of Selibe Phikwe clearly demonstrates this dilemma.
Sure, it does involve a very ordinary affair; the unexpected, and haphazard, closure of a mining venture. Words, we all know very well are the greatest enemies of reality. Whatever we don’t want to see we repress, overwhelm and stifle out with words. Whatever we feel uncomfortable with we restrain and conceal in a gigantic ocean of bewildering words. The things we love and desire we exult in words, even when they are out of our possession we still claim such possession with words.
To a student of languages this abuse of words at length becomes fatal to both imagination and learning. But politicians have no problem with this burden of unreality; what they see here is a gold mine. Some BDP politicians, for instance, still refuse to admit the mine was closed; “We are just still looking for another buyer,” they say. Oh, really? Why is it the miners and the people of Selibe-Phikwe were not told this before that day of evil, the day when, unprepared, a bunch of BDP politicians matched arrogantly in their town and told them the game was up, and nothing could be done to save the mine from closure, and their desperate lives from ruin and destruction?
Only one thing can guide us towards reality, force of insight and brilliant reading of difficult human situations; going behind words to explore the philosophy of meaning, and this demands clinical empirical observation. It is the one thing scholars are really good at, and the one thing politicians love to hate. Human beings easily get lost in the world of many words, and in many instances, what really appears to be a respectable man talking in such situations is really no more than a parrot squeaking.
Trouble is the ordinary Motswana is easily overwhelmed by argument and authority, even when such argument and authority are nothing but pure nonsense. The case of Selibe-Phikwe is illustrative. The illogicality of authoritarian attitude, the ardour of its speech, the hypocritical eloquence of their affected whimpering; all these things Batswana, not only hoard in their emotional breasts, but they fervently, even feverishly, gather them up, often cherish them, and they are always ready to pour them out by the hour in pubs, busses, radio stations, I would not be surprised if this things also formed part of post-coitus bliss, “Oh, that was great, honey, now tell me more about that fuss at Selibe-Phikwe”. No wonder we are no longer a romantic society!
Two things are a serious problem in our society; intellectual insufficiency, and imperfect trust in our own convictions. We also seem to be increasingly becoming too fond of inconveniences. Everything bad is allowed to pass. We even accord distinction to things that are simply too unintelligible to us. I have been accused of malicious investigation by some politicians in this country, and my crime? Writing articles for newspapers.
Does that make sense? The real problem with moral corruption, I think, is that the desire for freedom, for the flourishing of human aspirations…the simple love of justice, and even the fidelity of simple minds, are regularly prostituted to the lusts of hate and fear. That we now allow such things to happen in Botswana is something I never anticipated, but I should also admit I saw these things coming. Like most people my first reaction was ambiguous. Now I know better.
The people of Selibe-Phikwe are beginning to experience abandonment, and that is a fate I really would never wish anyone, not even my worst enemy. Batswana are beginning to pay a heavy price for their mystic acceptance of the principle of autocracy in our political culture, and let’s not forget that despotism is by nature a most unwearied industry.
The extirpation from the land of public conscience, of all the hallmarks of freedom in public institutions, the ruthless persecution of the rising generation…all these things Batswana welcomed with open arms and minds, and now BDP is hell bent on the destruction of the very hope of liberty itself. What do Batswana have to say about these things? We have even allowed these people to defile the temperament of our nation, and execrate its moral personality. Has anyone ever seen a republic that takes so few precautions for its safety?
For now we can expect two things from the people of Selibe-Phikwe; disorder, and political revolt. But our domestic god, the Autocrat of our wretched Universe, perched comfortably at Government Enclave, will not allow this. A strike by miners in that cursed town was in the past met with such violence that I doubt the cruel memory of that other day of evil is already forgotten.
In fact I heard BDP politicians boasting and gloating about that triumph of barbarian politics over poor, and unarmed Batswana workers, at the funeral of Mompati Merafe; it is considered a national heroic deed in BDP history. I wonder what our trade unions, and the suffering people of Selibe-Phikwe think about that.
As I write their appointed fate is already overtaking them, and the BDP never bothered to sound out any warning. Very typical isn’t it, this habit of suddenly striking other citizens dead to the ground, annihilating hope and life, and mercilessly ignoring the yells of horror. It happened to Basarwa before, so many times, I’d advice the people of Selibe-Phikwe to take a leaf from the history book of this arrogant politics from Basarwa. They should not expect any help from the BDP and its lackeys at Government Enclave. They must just accept they are on their own. Oh, they will be fed words, billions of words, signifying nothing.
History is teaching us great lessons in this country. The tragedy is that we are learning these things from harsh realities, from plagues, terrors and tomes covered with thorns and thistles. All the same we are learning, and this, I hope, is a learning curve we shall never forget. Even in the face of our rather infrequent moments of elation we really should never forget the dangers that menace our lives and public institutions.
The experience of Selibe-Phikwe is a stark reminder of the impermanence of human security, comfort and happiness in our country, and we should all remember a political culture that cannot safeguard these minimal standards of civilized life is a system based on falsehood and deceit. No faint apologetic smiles can compensate for such loses; for these facile gestures, too, are revoltingly dishonest and treacherous. The people of Selibe-Phikwe are beginning to learn these things in a bad way, and they are learning very fast.
Meanwhile at Government Enclave people are still receiving medals, and BDP monstrous institutions are still giving rewards and appointments to people who really should never have been in the civil service in the first place…to solve the problems of Selibe-Phikwe; the children and people of that wretched town, the very people painfully aware of the emotional tensions of their time, are just spectators. How amazing! Just how are these victims of pure political malice expected to defer to these strangers and their grand superior airs?
I suppose they will have to take these things in just as much great confusion as the crisis plaguing and blighting their lives…the jeering, and leering, the condescending murmurs, the French perfumes, and the peculiar emphasis on sterile bureaucratic resolutions…could there be anything more annoying, more disgusting?
Just imagine those poor people emerging as they are from those horribly irritating sulphuric fumes from the dead mine, and already being exposed to just as nauseating French perfumes, and meanwhile children are out of school, men and women out of work, businesses are collapsing, and professional artisans who have worked for decent wages all their lives are being told to go and till tomatoes for a living, learn to declare war on exotic worms that seem to have a frighteningly huge appetite for tomatoes…how weird!
Selibe-Phikwe is a town that was built by workers and foreign capital. Government only came on board later. Why now are these workers being excluded from decisions that so intimately involve their lives, their future, and the lives of their children and loved ones? Why are worker organisations being marginalised in these silly talks about redirecting the future of the town? Who knows better what the people really want beside the workers of Selibe-Phikwe themselves?
Yes, business can play a part in these belated efforts but not if disillusioned workers start gathering up their families and returning to their villages to start eking out some miserable existences there. What incentives have been put in place to keep these people in Selibe-Phikwe? None. 5000 workers translates to families comprising altogether more than 30 000 people, a whole political constituency…and these people are scattering to their villages in huge numbers even as I write now.
BDP does not care…they are still talking to the business community…what silliness! The economies of scale is disappearing, purchasing power is dying, and they are still talking to business…just who told them these disappointed people are going to stay in that wretched mess?
Who told them those who have already fled are coming back? What foolishness! Why does BDP despise workers so much? Can anything ever succeed in that town without the determined commitment of the people, of the communities, who built that town in the first place? Where is this madness coming from?
BDP will succeed only in one thing; further weakening of the businesses operating in that town; banks, retail shops, small businesses, transport operators, learning institutions and manufacturing plants. So far they have already succeeded in cutting the number of political constituencies from two to one, and by the time we get to the elections in 2019 that town will be just one of the small wards in that vast region…just imagine that? You think it won’t happen?
It will happen…mark my words, unless this madness stops and BDP reigns in this irritating appetite by imperial bureau to always appear like the only competent arbiter of social ills and tensions in public life. These people are so incompetent they can hardly manage their own departments. What really can they accomplish in Selibe-Phikwe?
I might be wrong about all this. But I have seen these things happening before. Other people may think…but this is Botswana. Everything is possible here…a typical languid African habit of dealing with serious national crisis. Buffoonery of all sorts is allowed to flourish. I doubt though if these queer ideas of industry are agreeable and encouraging to those suffering people. To begin with they are too horribly startling. Second they are ridiculous to the extreme.
The most discerning, and therefore most utterly confounded amongst the people are already leaving. But they are not done with the BDP. Oh, no. Their judgement of this horrendous situation is much more philosophical, and tactical. Their response more political, and strategic.
I am thinking of moving to Selibe-Phikwe, permanently. As I said, the drama unfolding here is most instructive, and I love learning, from real life situations-every writer does. I even discern certain first principles dear to the merciless minds of youths cropping up here and there. The cries of astonishment and dismay are slowly dying, giving way to harsh, brittle laughter, and ferocious anger.
BDP and Government Enclave, as usual, have no heart to hear the sounds of weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. They are calmly talking voodoo economics…in curt, self-confident voices. Tender roots are being uprooted from the hearts and minds of a desperate people, whole lives are being wasted, thousands of brains are seething with arguments, and even the most ordinary town resident is sick with indignation…the spirit of progress and truth is being destroyed, for far too many people, and BDP functionaries sit in their offices, drinking coffee, and munching scones…talking voodoo economics.
They don’t want to hear unguarded expressions; they have no time for useless gatherings, and street corner murmurings. All is quiet on the Western front. They see not the broken lives, ruined, and robbed of hope. The miserable existences in some filthy hole of a room, the sordid bed of an understaffed hospital, the misleading peace of bitter calmness, the horrible discord, the minds morphing into abject things, the fears of permanent endangerment…under their noises, these are anomalies. Collected-cool as cucumber, BDP functionaries eat toast with butter, talking about corrections…oh, boy, just where do these people get their souls? Is it possible people like these leave behind posterity? It’s just amazing how they take pride in their futile purpose.
When, really, will they start dealing with the consequences? For how long do they intend to continue refusing to confront reality? And this burden of unreality, just how long can it survive the God of Justice that is enshrined in the hearts and souls of all suffering human beings? Are they waiting for history to put fate to the test? Is that what they really want? No nation wants to endure the crisis of its fate. It’s weary work. All rational people work hard to avoid this, to strike a less costly bargain with fate.
This is the basis of political philosophy; the cornerstone of all rational political activity. Just what is BDP up to? I am not saying they should stop eating caviar. By all means gorge yourselves while you still have time. But national problems, we all know, cannot be solved simply by way of mental extravagance and arbitrary proceedings bothering on recklessness…what BDP calls mananeo.
BDP has reduced all poor people of Botswana to the disreputable position of being treated by the Office of the President and underling ministries as nothing short of beggars off duty. Is this what they want for the population of Selibe-Phikwe? A town this big, this literate, this politically active, cannot, and will not, be degraded to the lowest social depths of the hopeless and destitution, not without serious political consequences.
Selibe-Phikwe is going down, and its death throes reverberate resoundingly throughout the entire central district and beyond. This is one political failure BDP cannot, and will not, manage, to live down. Its death, if death it really turns out to be, cannot but presage the political death of BDP itself. Is this what the party really wants?
It might be time has come for real work to be done at both Government Enclave and Tsholetsa House. Digging their own grave is all right so far as vanity goes, but in pure political terms, it is, irreverently, a most foolish thing to do. Teedzani Thapelo* is winner of the Institute of International Education Fellowship Award, runner up winner of the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, and former Distinguished Africa Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Policy in Southern Africa, Economic History Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and author of Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: andonment and revolt, forthcoming in 2018.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.
If we are to go by what I can term as conventional wisdom, the coronavirus arose in China’s Hubei province in the city of Wuhan. According to the WHO, the Chinese government filed the country’s first confirmed Covid-19 case with the international health regulator on December 8, 2019, with the first case outside of China’s boarders reported in Thailand on January 13, 2020.
We now know, however, courtesy of a paper in The Lancet that was authored by doctors from Wuhan’s Jinhintan Hospital, that the first such case was logged on December 1. We have also come to learn that in point of fact, the first patient, the so-called Patient Zero, may have presented with the as yet unfathomed Covid-9 symptoms in a public health facility on November 17. This is according to a report in the South China Morning Post, which claims to have seen classified medical government reports.
The Post report says nine cases of Covid-19 sufferers, aged between 39 and 79, were attended to during the month of November alone and that a total of 266 people officially had the disease by December 31st. Clearly, the disease had been sedately circulating for some time before it exploded towards the end of the year considering that a great number of people do not present symptoms at all.
Yet the fact the disease was first announced in China and even laboratory-spawned in that country does not necessarily mean China was its veritable place of origin. It almost certainly had multiple origins and may have occurred much earlier in other places on the globe.
AMERICA’S FLU ILLNESS TSUNAMI
Unbeknownst to much of the world, Covid-19 struck in Europe and the USA about the same time it did so in China, if not much earlier, it has now emerged. This is not tabloid hogwash or simply idle gossip folks: it was reported by the highly estimable news outlets such as NBC News and The New York Times. Even Newsweek, which along with Time magazine constitute America’s leading two weekly political magazines, was adamant that the coronavirus outbreak must have occurred as early as September 2019 and that Wuhan was possibly not its birthplace as such. For some reason (or is it for partisan reasons?), the globally renowned broadcast media networks like CNN, BBC, and Sky News have chosen to self-gag on the matter.
If there’s one disease which is so notoriously recurrent and even death-dealing in the US, it is influenza – commonly referred to as the flu or common cold. Here in Africa, flu is no much of a big deal: it is so mild I personally do not know – nor have ever heard of – a single one person who died of flu. In the US, flu is some menace. For instance, in the 2017-18 season, over 61,000 deaths were linked to flu, and in the 2018-19 season, 34,200 succumbed to the disease. Every year, 10 percent of the US population, or 32 million people, contract flu, though only about 100,000 end up being hospitalised anyway.
In the US, the flu season ordinarily runs from October to May, straddling three of the country’s four-season set, namely fall (September to November), winter (December to February), and spring (March to May). The disease is particularly widespread in 16 states. Last year, the winter flu season began atypically early and with a big bang that had never been seen in 15 years according to a December 6, 2019 report by Associated Press (AP), a wire news agency. By the beginning of December or thereabouts, 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalisations, and 900 flu-related deaths had taken place.
The Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) put the number of people already dead from flu-related illnesses as of mid-March 2019 at between 29,000 and 59,000. This was in addition to the misery of hundreds of thousands of flu-related hospitalisations and millions of medical visits for flu symptoms that have raged in the course of the season. Some hospitals in New Orleans have reported the busiest patient traffic ever at their emergency departments.
Health authorities in Louisiana, which was the first to be impinged, said flu-like illnesses began to rocket in the month of October. Said the AP report: “There are different types of flu viruses, and the one causing illnesses in most parts of the country is a surprise.” Dave Osthus, a flu statistician at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was quoted as saying, “This could be a precursor to something pretty bad. But we don’t know what that is.” Well, maybe we can venture an answer to the conundrum: the flu situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus.
THE CASE OF A NEW JERSEY MAYOR
The story of Michael Mellaham, the mayor of the New Jersey city of Belleville, has been widely reported in the Western world, albeit in the comparatively fringe media houses primarily lest the finger of indictment shift from China to the US. Sometime in November last year, Mellaham came down with an ailment that presented with Covid-19-like symptoms such as aches, high fevers, chills, and a sore throat, the latter of which went on for a full month. Right at the onset of his diseased condition, Mellaham went to see his doctor, who told him not to worry as it was little more than flu and would peter out in a matter of days. The illness lingered for much longer though he at long last fought it off. It was the sickest he had ever been in his adult life.
In April this year, Mellaham took a Covid-19 test and he was found not with Covid-19 per se but its antibodies, which crystal-clearly evinced he had the disease at some stage in the recent past. This is what he told China Global Television Network (CGTN) in May: “We’re told that they (people with Covid-19-like symptoms) don’t have the flu. They just have bronchitis. They just have a bad cough or it’s a bad cold. I think that we just weren’t expecting Covid-19 then, so therefore the doctors didn’t know what to call it or what to expect.”
Of the credibility of the test he took, known as IgM (Immunoglobulin M Test), the first antibody a body makes when it fights a new infection, Mellaham said, “The IgM is the more recent antibody, which would have shown that that antibody is more recent in my system, that my body more recently fought the coronavirus.”
The first publicly admitted case of coronavirus-triggered morbidity in the US was announced in January this year and involved a Californian who had recently returned from Wuhan, but as Mellaham pointedly put it, “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t here (on US soil) before that”.
SUDDENLY “MANY PIXELS”
On May 7, 2020, The New York Times reported of two men aged 57 and 69 who died in their homes in Santa Clara, California, on February 6 and 17 respectively, and this was 23 days before the US announced its first Covid-19 fatality in Kirkland, Washington, on February 29. Their demise was attributed to flu post-mortem but it later emerged that they had been victims of the novel coronavirus. Since they had never travelled outside their community for years, they must have contracted the disease within the locality.
The Santa Clara county’s chief medical office Sarah Cody said the deaths of the two was probably the tip of the iceberg of unknown size. Dr Jeffrey Smith, the Santa Clara county executive, he too a medical doctor, opined that the coronavirus must have been spreading in California unrecognised for a long time now.
Indeed, if we take stock of the fact that passengers on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which departed California on February 11, developed Covid-19 whilst on board, the odds certainly are that Covid-19 hit much earlier in the US than it hit the headlines. As Cody pointedly put it, “We had so few pixels you could hardly pick out the image. Suddenly, we have so many pixels all of sudden that we now realise we didn’t know what we were looking for.”
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
In Europe, a radiology research team at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Colma, France, has traced the first Covid-19 case in that country to November 16, 2019 according to reports by NBC News and The New York Times. The researchers came to this finding after examining 2500 chest X-rays taken from November 1, 2019 to April 30 this year.
French authorities declared the first Covid-19 case on January 24 having detected it in three nationals who had recently been to China, though it has now transpired that whilst one finger was point to China, four were point back at France itself.
It came to light last month that a sample taken from a French patient with pneumonia on December 27 subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. “There’s no doubt for us it was already there in December,” Dr Yves Cohen, head of intensive care at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals in the northern suburbs of Paris, told The New York Times on May 4 this year. “It is quite possible that there were isolated cases that led to transmission chains that died down.”
Weighing in on the matter too, Michel Schmitt, who led the Albert Schweitzer Hospital research, said, “The testimonies are really rich; they show that people felt that something strange was going on, but they were not in a capacity to raise the alarm.”
THE CAMBRIDGE AND UCL FINDINGS
Meanwhile, two independent research projects by two of Britain’s premier institutions of learning have turned up evidence that Covid-19 was in Europe as early as the third quarter of 2019. Following a study to understand the historical processes that led to the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Cambridge found that the coronavirus outbreak appears to have started between September 13 and December 7 in 2019.
The University College London’s Genetics Institute (UCL) analysed genomes from the Covid-19 virus in over 7,500 people and deduced that the pandemic must have started between October 6 and December 11 in 2019. The UCL team analysed virus genomes, using published sequences from over 7,500 people with Covid-19 across the globe. Their report, titled HYPERLINK “https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567134820301829” \l “s0045” \t “_blank” Emergence of Genomic Diversity and Recurrent Mutations in SARS-CoV-2, was published in the May 6, 2020 edition of the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.