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.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”