In a recent edition of the Mmegi newspaper, Titus Mbuya gave us food for thought in an opinion piece where he advocated for the necessity of massive testing and tracking of everybody in the period prior to and immediately after the lifting of the month-long lockdown.
He lampooned President Mokgweetsi Masisi for appearing not to have made a clear plan of action in his last address to the nation that his administration would deploy aggressively once the lockdown had run its course.
Mbuya bemoaned that President Masisi failed the nation, particularly its businesses and the scores of unemployed citizens barely eking a living even in the best of times.
He concluded his opinion piece with an exhortation based on the late Ray Phiri’s presumptive anthem, ‘Singa Jindi Majita’, which is Tsotsi taal for “Let’s not quit guys”. Mbuya must be congratulated on stating his case as eloquently as he is wont to do and has been doing over the course of his professional life.
Nonetheless, in the interest of a public debate over an issue gripping not just our nation, but even the rest of the world, I believe a rebuttal of Mbuya’s said opinion piece, on a different philosophical plane, is appropriate.
In this rebuttal, I will reverse course and refer first to the song of the late Mandoza, ‘Uzoyithola kanjani’ a Kwaito beat in Tsotsi taal, asking in English, ‘How will you find it?’ The question could be directed at any number of matters to which there may be a need to find answers to something, including a medical condition such as the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Mbuya argues that in the post-lockdown period, those afflicted by COVID-19 could be found by massive testing and tracking, coupled, of course, with the rest of the universal health protocols of cleaning hands consistently and repeatedly, social distancing, the ubiquitous wearing of masks, quarantining and several other health-related habits.
I disagree with Mbuya on the imperative for mass testing and targeting as a sine qua non for the easing of the lockdown.
Here is why.
The best available science says that the virus will be with us until we have reached herd immunity – also known as community immunity or group protection. This, apparently, happens when many people, say 70% to 90% of the population, becomes immune to the disease and thus stops it from spreading. Until that time, the most authoritative scientific opinion claims, nothing, including massive testing and tracking as demanded by Mbuya, will get us out of COVID-19.
In fact, I want to argue that as a matter of practical political philosophy, only countries with strong democracies and wide social safety nets (for the unemployed, indigent, disabled, old age persons, or the unbearably needy) have the inclination and capacity to defend the lives of their citizens in a way that balances economic survival, health and freedom for all, even during times of pandemics. It is a balancing act – mediating, for now, between a moving target called COVID-19 and the public’s right to be assured honestly, by their governments that something good is being done for them despite its presence. In these circumstances, no fixed indices can be deployed to counteract decisively this virus, except
Considered objectively, when the President ordered a gradual and phased relaxation of the lockdown that to me signalled a clear plan out of the imposed restriction. When the President directed a staggered and dated resumption of some business activities beyond the lockdown that to me evinced an even clearer plan out of the lockdown.
When the President ordered a continuation of the universal health guidelines against COVID-19 even beyond the lockdown period that to me showed an acknowledgement that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. Rhetorically, one may ask, how then can we fault the President on the basis that he failed to indicate a clear plan of his government in the post-lockdown period?
According to the best scientific viewpoint prevailing now, mass COVID-19 testing plans are unrealistic and unaffordable for the most part, even for the richer Western nations. (see the latest issues of The Financial Times and New York Times).
In these circumstances, both the rush to insist on the easing of the lockdown, and the rush to find fault with tentative, gradual and unsure steps of returning our country to some form of normalcy are unjustified, while the rush to criticise a governmental clear plan applicable beyond the lockdown is foolhardy.
I would like to personalise the next point I wish to make, with the hope that by so doing, I am able to convey my point more convincingly.
If the criticism (or defence) of the President’s message to the nation was not made by citizens who earn above the average salary (me), or citizens who are media executives and have their eyes fixed on their businesses’ bottomline (Mbuya), we would all be approaching this crisis and responding to its debilitating traits with an openness that would free us from the shackles of self-interest and liberate us to embrace fairness, for everybody, as a virtue.
Mbuya concludes his opinion piece by encouraging ‘all the hustlers out there’ that ‘it does not matter', they must not quit. I agree with this but want to add that it matters in a different context: it must matter that COVID-19 compels us to re-assess, perhaps even revise, our moral compass as a nation about how we relate with each other.
It must matter that COVID-19 should goad our leaders to accept that in times of crises, they have an ethical duty to protect everybody fairly. And it matters that going forward, we acknowledge that the most basic of our habits – like proper and constant hygiene – have a far greater significance in our daily lives than we have assumed previously.
Ultimately, COVID-19 matters and as human beings, we matter even more!
*Bongi D D M Radipati is a middle-aged professional. He writes from logic and admits his ignorance in the disciplines of science, epidemiology and politics
BONGI D. D. M. RADIPATI*