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The New Abnormal

MQONDISI DUBE
The New Abnormal PIC: BASHI KIKIA
The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought a new normal.

Masks, social distancing, the absence of handshakes have been the distinct hallmarks of the new life.

But the virus has also brought the new abnormal.

Certain products have assumed new significance since the country went on a seven-week lockdown in April.

During the period, where strict measures to control movement were enforced, alcohol became a scarce commodity, probably for the first time since the country attained its independence from Britain in 1966.

Imbibers were crestfallen through a difficult period spanning nearly two months. Watering holes had not necessarily dried, but the government had put a ban on the sale of a liquid considered precious across many households.

The throats dried, and the available option for desperate drinkers was the black market, where prices had soared to around P70 for a 750ml of their favourite beverage. The regular price before the lockdown was around P17. The change was unimaginable.

When the government lifted the strict lockdown restrictions on May 21, there was collective relief.

Alcohol started flowing as people were allowed to move freely within zones without the ‘dreaded’ permits. It was a breath of fresh air as bushy haired and bearded men emerged from their homes for a quick clean cut.

Life appeared to return to (the new) normal.

But there was another unexpected obstacle that has disrupted a smooth return to activities.

Normally, a fuel tanker is one of those irritating haulage trucks on the road, particularly on the highway.

A petrol attendant, ordinarily, has never made the A-list of important people in life.

But there has been a drastic, seismic

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shift in the last couple of days.

What started off as a queue of two or so vehicles at fuel stations has snowballed into a national crisis in the last two weeks.

Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security permanent secretary, Mmetla Masire appeared on Botswana Television (Btv) last week Saturday, to dispel fears of a looming crisis. He assured the government was tapping into its strategic reserves to offset rising concerns. At least six million litres were pumped into the market to quench the vehicles’ undying thirst.

But, instead, the crisis has escalated, and six million litres later, queues are getting longer, and for the first time in ages, Botswana has a fuel black market.

Most locals became accustomed to images of winding fuel queues from the back end of the Btv news where suffering nationals from neighbouring Zimbabwe, would be seen in endless fuel queues.

Now the crisis has rolled over to Botswana, with no end in sight, as more locals spend hours in queues. It is a new abnormal, and could get worse. South African drivers are on the brink of a crippling strike that could affect deliveries, while the neighbouring country is already battling with some refineries, down. With reduced refining in South Africa, this could spell further doom for motorists.

In the meantime, a fuel tanker, a petrol station and attendant, have assumed a new, significant meaning. They are no longer just a vehicle, an ordinary building or person as fuel is now the new liquid gold.



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