The deadly COVID-19 contagion hit Botswana in early 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) proclaimed that the virus is spread through contact with infected persons and surfaces. Batswana from all districts, towns, cities and rural areas found themselves in dread mode when the first case of Coronavirus was first confirmed in the country.
At the time, Batswana had slight data about the virus. Some learned that frequent sanitization, masking up and keeping a social distance will help them evade contacting the COVID-19 virus. The government pooled these health safety tips on social media and other forms of communications such as radios and newspapers.
The question that lingered unrequited was: Are these memos able to reach those in rural settlements who live without social media, walkie-talkies or do not have mobile phones even. Even though COVID-19 was not severe in rural settings, this has since seen a drastic change and escalation in COVID-19 cases. The virus has entered poverty-stricken villages with no access to water, medical facilities and not even roads.
WeekendPost followed this particular issue and covered villages surrounding Kanye in the Southern District in a unique report. These villages include Ntlhantlhe, Magotlhwane, Ranaka,Lekgolobotlo, Moshana, Lotlhakane East and Molapowabojang.
These are small communities with fewer populations, but COVID-19 has since paraded in them and continue to claim more lives, precisely every day. The communities decry lack of clean water, nil communication from relevant authorities and failure by the government to come to their rescue. The situation seems to be taking a miserable course, as the government has been vocal about failing to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upon arrival at Ntlhantlhe village, two older women sat under a tree looking down and gloomy. It quickly hit off that it’s probably because of this pandemic, more so that there is no emotional support given to any patient. It gets worse when lives are lost, as families do not have time to mourn their loved ones.
“It’s regrettable for all of us in the village. We go to a funeral every week, which is emotionally straining, but it inculcates anxiety, especially among us, the old age. We have been vaccinated twice, but the young have not been vaccinated yet. These are age groups that are dying at alarming rates, in any case. We do not have anything to protect us except some of these traditional plants that are said to be able to help the body fight viruses,” said Seneo Radimo, a 78-year old woman.
COVID-19 is emotionally straining. As it is in Botswana, there are no psychologists available to help COVID-19 victims. Radimo told WeekendPost that, “Ga go na ope o re sidilang maikutlo. Ga re ise re bone ope a tla ko go rona a re sidila maikutlo. Re tshela fela ka lone letshogo. Re thusiwa ke baruti mo seromamoweng ba re balela ditemana.”
“We do not have anyone to provide counselling during this crisis. No one has come to provide counselling, and we live with concern. It’s only pastors on radios who can preach for us and share words of hope with us.”
Mental Health Therapist at Botswana Network for Mental Health Lisa Fraser said there is a need to continue raising mental health awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic. She indicated that mental health was generally ignored in most parts of Africa, including Botswana, and necessary action was only taken when the situation worsened.
Fraser stressed that there were only a few mental health facilities to give the necessary support and highlighted issues of stigma against those affected.
Mental health research in Botswana: a semi-systematic scoping review conducted in 2020 says mental health policy was developed in 2003 to provide a framework for incorporating the mental health programme into general healthcare services.
Botswana has no national mental health research database, and to the best of our knowledge, the available literature on mental health research provides inadequate guidance to inform policy and practice.
The mental health aspects of HIV studied were depression, neurocognitive disorders, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in psychiatric patients, sexual behaviour and psychosocial issues.
Most studies were conducted in general hospital settings; only one was completed with psychiatric inpatients and found a high prevalence of HIV among female psychiatric inpatients.
The prevalence of depression in PLWHIV ranges from 25.3% to 48%, and men (31.4%) are more affected than women (25.3%). Factors associated with depression in women were low energy and limitations in role function, lower education, higher income and lack of control in sexual decision making. Similarly, factors associated with depression in men were being single, living in a rural area and engaging in intergenerational sex.
Psychosocial issues identified among adolescents with HIV in Botswana include behavioural problems (70%), family issues (58%) and HIV medication adherence (57%). A study on mental health stigma reported that patients with HIV and mental illness are stereotyped as dangerous and untrustworthy and are discriminated against.
Magotlhwane village’s COVID-19 anxiety is analogous to that of Ntlhatlhe. These are developing villages opposite each other. Phiri said in an interview that “Batho ba fedile. Ga gona sepe se eleng gore batho fa ba lwala ba se fiwa ko dipatela. Re kentilwe mme go setse ba bangwe ba e leng gore ga ba ise ba kentiwe. Banana ba fedile jaanong rona ga re itse gore re tlile go bolokwa ke bo mang.”
“People are dying. There is nothing that these people are given at the hospitals when they are in a critical state. We have been vaccinated, but not all of us. The young people are gone, and we don’t know who will be taking care of us.”
She, however, designated that young people are conscious of the COVID-19 virus. The fact remains, the youth are now becoming more affected than it was before. “We are concerned really about our lives, but more concern is about the young ones. What pains me more is that there is no help coming from anywhere when one family member is infected. We are kept home with no food, at times, no water.
In Ranaka, a village that lies along Ntlhantlhe-Kanye road, the clinic was full. COVID-19 patients were given chairs to sit and isolate in the sun. The nurse in charge believes that COVID-19 doesn’t become active when in contact with the sun. Some of these patients just received positive results, and the majority are children.
In an interview with one patient, Idah Bosa (53) applauded the villagers as they seem to comply better than those in Mogoditshane village. She said she was intrigued by seeing parents going to the clinic with their children for COVID-19 testing, which shows how much they prioritize health.
“I came to Ranaka because my daughter had lost her mother-in-law due to COVID-19. As you see me here today in the clinic, I came to test for the virus, and my results were positive. I wasn’t surprised to have been positive because my children tested positive before me, and since I live with them under the same roof, I knew at once that I needed to get tested right away. I am still doing very well, I have no complaints so far, but from here, I’ll be going to isolate myself.”
A woman who shares her life with Boiki Thakatswana was sitting under a tree hoping to see someone pass by her stall to purchase something. Her spuds were packed nicely on a table with no shades, except for one from the small tree that was not even good enough. She is a 40-year old Margaret Mogolwane.
The streets were empty. There was absolutely no movement in Lotlhakane East, only a few donkey carts from the village Jojo tank that supplies water on good days.
She added more salt to the wound as she told this publication that she is very troubled by how young people in the village portray offhand arrogance towards COVID-19. For these young folks, the ‘new normal’ doesn’t exist in their lexis. They still host get-togethers in what they call ‘private chillas.” At these sessions, young people have fun hysterically.
To her knowledge, only a few older people in the village have received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, and she has never heard of the second dose since.
“We pray every day to hear that this pandemic is over because we cannot afford to lose our loved ones at this rate. The worst part of it is that we are even more afraid of attending their funerals in fear of contracting the virus. The fact that their bodies are no longer brought home to be seen for the last time when bidding them farewell is even agonizing.”
“As a street vendor, my business has also been affected by COVID-19. There is this belief that street vendors have COVID-19 as most people prefer buying from supermarkets and not from us. There are no job opportunities available. Companies no longer accept applications like before,” she added.
The much-anticipated opposition unity talks that will see Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) engage Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are expected to kick off any time from now.
According to informants, the talks, which were preceded by-elections negotiations, aim to be as inclusive as possible. As the talks start, the UDC, composed of Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana People’s Party (BPP), insist on retaining its preferred model of Umbrella; on the other hand, the BPF is proposing a PACT; and AP is in favour of an alliance model.
BPF is reportedly sceptical on the umbrella model and wants cooperation with the flexibility to allow other parties to join hands with UDC but without necessarily contesting elections using UDC symbols and colours.
BPF, which is currently the fastest-growing party, seems to be focused on self-actualization, self-preservation and securing institutional capacity in case of any political calamity. Although often profitable, cooperation politics can often leave individual political parties battered by political events and weakened beyond meaningful survival.
Discussions with some BPF members suggest that the party has big ambitions and harbour serious intentions of taking the BDP by its horns-all by itself-one day. “The position by some of our leaders is that the future of the UDC remains uncertain. The position and advice are that we should not put all our eggs in one basket. And the party elders think the pact model of cooperation is the safest under prevailing circumstances. Some, however, are worried that we should not overestimate our worth despite being the fastest-growing party in the country.
However, the matter is yet to be concluded once we receive the official invite,” revealed a BPF member of the NEC. Asked about the specifics of the pact idea, another high ranking party official revealed that the party Patron, Lt Gen Ian Khama and his brother Tshekedi Khama are among those who are for the election pact model.
BPF Spokesperson Lawrence Ookeditse has earlier this year told this publication that: “We have not settled on a model yet.” He also added that as a party, they are ready and willing to work with UDC, “but we will have our thoughts on how the cooperation or the talks should transpire, and they too will tell us their preference, and we will sit on the table to see how best to work together”.
AP heads into these negotiations with proposals of its own. On the model part, AP has expressed flexibility but want its partners to consider other models. AP believes that beyond the umbrella model, the coalition could also have a matrix to ensure that opposition parties select the best candidates for parliamentary and council seats.
AP, a splinter party of the beleaguered Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), asks for the constituencies allocated to BMD in the previous talks before it was kicked out on the eve of the 2019 elections.
AP, which garnered a popular vote of under 40 000 in the 2019 general elections, is confident that it brings tremendous value to the UDC, and state power could be within reach in 2024. To reconcile the various interest of political parties, the leaders have agreed to engage political experts in a bid to arrive at the best decisions.
“There will be no conveners because parties in the past believed that they (conveners) took decisions on behalf of the constituent parties, though they are not representing any. So, the idea is to rope in political experts to direct UDC and the negotiating parties as to which path of cooperation model to follow,” a highly placed informant said this week.
UDC convener Lebang Mpotokwane has also defended the umbrella model in the past, noting that it creates fewer problems for the participants. The negotiations will be the fourth opposition cooperation talks since the 2009 elections. The opposition has held talks in 2011, 2012 and 2017. The 2012 talks resulted in Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), which has been anchoring negotiations since then.
When the Chairperson of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Body invited member states to submit candidates for the vacant Director-General post for consideration, Botswana developed a keen interest.
It swiftly mobilized to beat the deadline, but the unions, upon consultation, nominated Justice Key Dingake as their preferred candidate, much to the government’s disappointment, who then decided to dump the whole issue altogether.
In accordance with the Rules governing the appointment of the Director-General and the decisions made by the Governing Body at its 341st and 342nd Sessions, the Chairperson of the Governing Body calls for candidates for appointment to the office of Director-General of the ILO through communication to all Governing Body members and all ILO Member States and candidatures must be submitted by a Member State of the ILO or by a regular or deputy member of the Governing Body.
The deadline for submission was on Friday, 1 October 2021, and candidatures were to be sent by postal or electronic mail to the following address to the Chairperson of the Governing Body. This publication had established that when Cabinet sat to discuss the issue, it was resolved that the unions as key stakeholders should be consulted and requested to submit a name for consideration. They did and offered Justice Oagile Key Dingake-a distinguished scholar and labour law expert whose contribution to the country’s labour fraternity is unparalleled.
When asked this week to share their side of the story, the unions said they were first invited to partake in the process by the government but never got a response after they nominated judge Dingake as an ideal candidate.
“We sent our correspondence to the Minister of Employment, Labour and productivity, Mpho Balopi, with our suggested name being Justice Oagile Key Dingake, but since then we never got a response,” said unionist, Tobokani Rari who further expressed disappointment at how the government has handled the matter.
Rari said that while he would not want to impute any improper motives to anyone, the developments rekindled memories of the government’s hostility towards Judge Dingake, who has been forced by circumstances to take his skills and wealth of experience to the benefit of other countries. Balopi did not respond to questions sent to him and did not pick this publication’s calls at the time of going to press.
Cabinet insiders say Dingake’s name spoilt the party and dampened the spirits. “In the list of nominated names, he was the leading candidate, but I guess the powers that be could not imagine themselves campaigning for him and doing all they did for the Executive Secretary of SADC Secretariat, Elias Magosi.”
Dingake’s sin, observers say, has always been his progressive, independent mind and family’s political background, all of which have always stood in his way to progress to the country’s judicial ladder’s ends.
It is understood that also in the mix and preferred by the state was former Attorney General, judge, and now Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Botswana to the United Nations and other international organizations, Dr Athaliah Molokomme, who also has a background in human rights advocacy.
But insiders say many believed that the country should export Dingake to represent the country given his decorated experience and background. As a lawyer, Dingake represented 90% of Trade Unions in Botswana, drafted numerous Collective Labour Agreements, later presided overall trade disputes, including Collective Labour Agreements, and made determinations as Judge of the Industrial Court of Botswana.
Dingake has also written and lectured widely on trade, labour and human rights and holds numerous citations and awards for his work regarding peace, human rights, and social development. Had he contested and won, he would have been the first African to lead the ILO.
The ILO is built on the constitutional principle that universal and lasting peace can be established only if based on social justice. The ILO has been the source of such hallmarks of industrial society as the 8-hour day, maternity protection, child labour laws and a whole range of policies promoting workplace safety and peaceful industrial relations. Unique among UN organizations, the ILO has a tripartite structure involving governments, employers and workers.
ILO Director-General elections events lineup…
At its 341st (March 2021) and 342nd (June 2021) Sessions, the ILO Governing Body approved the following timetable for the appointment of the Director-General because the current term of office of the Director-General will come to an end on 30 September 2022:
1 July 2021: The Chairperson of the Governing Body calls for candidatures 1 October 2021: Last date for the reception of candidatures A week in January 2022: The Chairperson of the Governing Body conducts interviews with candidates for the position of Director-General based on the format and principles contained in document GB.342/INS/6 and the guidance provided by the Governing Body at its 342nd Session 14-15 March 2022 (344th Session of the Governing Body): The Governing Body conducts candidate(s) hearings 25 March 2022 (344th Session of the Governing Body): The Governing Body conducts the ballot for the election of the Director-General 1 October 2022: The term of office of the Director-General commences.
Botswana and the European Union (EU) appear to have been at each other’s throats behind the scenes since last year, with the EU saying it held several meetings with Botswana to convince her to address human rights issues.
This is contained in a 2020 Human Rights Report that reveals broad divisions in contentious issues boiling behind the scenes between Gaborone and the Union. According to the report, which was released recently, the EU says it “continues to follow closely three main human rights issues in Botswana: the application of the death penalty; the rights of LGBTI persons; and gender equality.”
“Botswana remains part of a small group of countries – in Africa and globally – which continue to retain the death penalty both in law and in practice. Three executions were recorded in 2020,” the report says. According to the report, the Botswana Government indicated that a public debate on the application of the death penalty should be part of its ongoing work towards developing a Comprehensive Human Rights Strategy and the related National Action Plan.
The report says further progress on the rights of LGBTI persons’ seen in 2019, when Botswana’s High Court decriminalised same-sex consensual relations, is still pending, subject to a final court decision over a government appeal.
“Finally, gender-based violence and the need to advance gender equality and women’s rights in society remain another challenge for the country. In response to the high incidence of gender-based violence – which has intensified in many countries during the current COVID-19 pandemic – the President and the First Lady launched a public campaign to fight gender-based violence and to promote equality,” the report says.
The report says the EU did not fold its arms and watch from the sidelines the human rights issues in question are concerned but confronted Botswana to have the contentious issue addressed. “The EU continued to engage with the Botswana Government, multilateral organisations, non-governmental organisations and the broader society in Botswana in three main areas: the death penalty, gender-based violence and empowerment of women, and rights of LGBTI persons, as well as on the support of media and implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations,” the report says.
The report says that in addition to ad hoc consultations and human rights-oriented outreach efforts, the EU engaged with the Botswana Government on human rights formally in the context of the Article 8 Political Dialogue, which took place in February 2020.
“The dialogue offered an opportunity to exchange views on EU’s and Botswana’s experiences concerning the three EU priority areas in Botswana (capital punishment, gender-based violence and rights of LGBTI persons) as well as other human rights challenges, while also exploring opportunities for EU-Botswana cooperation on human rights issues in the context of the EU-Africa partnership and at the multilateral level,” the report says.
In parallel to engagement with the government, the EU said it continued to maintain dialogue with representatives of civil society focusing on human rights and with UN organisations and other partners of the country.
“The EU continues to be the driving force behind the Gender Dialogue (in principle co-chaired with UN Women and the Gender Affairs Department in the Ministry of Immigration, Nationality and Gender), which brings together various stakeholders to discuss gender issues to chart a way forward regarding partnerships. The EU has also used public diplomacy efforts to stimulate broader dialogue in the country on human rights issues,” the report says.
The EU said it continued to provide financial support to projects funded through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, with activities focused primarily on helping Botswana tackle gender-based violence, strengthen the notion of gender equality in the country, and promote participation in political processes.
“With six projects already underway, the EU signed two new programmes, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to support victims of gender-based and domestic violence and defend the rights of marginalised people, with a combined budget of EUR 430,000,” the report says. It says one of the projects is designed to offer care services to victims of gender-based violence and provide clinical services, counselling, shelter, and a referral system for legal and social assistance. Another project provides legal, medical and psychosocial support to refugees, undocumented migrants and indigenous people.
It says Botswana remains an important like-minded partner for the EU on the human rights agenda at a multilateral level. “The country’s positive role on human rights in the multilateral context would be further strengthened by initiating a domestic process of reflection about the signature and ratification of several pending core human rights conventions and/or optional protocols (e.g. the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, etc.)” the report says.
But the report acknowledged that Botswana is a stable and well-established democracy with a legal framework and institutions designed to guarantee respect for human rights in society. It says human rights complaints are addressed by the courts, with the government accepting decisions and implementing relevant rulings.
“Although the media scene in the country is relatively undeveloped, the World Press Freedom Index has noted a further positive trend concerning the role of the media in society (as was also the case in 2019) and has improved Botswana’s ranking from 44th to 39th place (out of 180 countries),” the report says. Meanwhile, this week, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi met with the EU delegation led by the managing director for Africa of the European External Action Services, Ms Rita Laranjinha.