Middle-class to blame for Covid mess

Connecting dots: Mphoeng believes the middle-class’ apathy is to blame for some of the country’s troubles
Connecting dots: Mphoeng believes the middle-class’ apathy is to blame for some of the country’s troubles

One day…. not today… one day… you my friends reading this have to acknowledge how you yourself failed this country. You see, we the 'middle class' are the main reasons for Botswana’s stagnation and regression in the past 20 years.

Let’s put to the side that many of you are the ones facilitating corruption in procurement, failing government in the implementation of policies etc. Let’s put that aside. Our biggest contribution (all of us) is our culpability in this whole mess. We prefer being quiet about public issues unless in private. We are the people who have access to leadership, information and could put government and everyone under pressure but what do we do, because we think keeping quiet protects our livelihood, we keep quiet. We tell each gore giving feedback in public messes with 'the bag' or our incomes. And this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you become a 'rebel' when you speak out.

This creates a scenario where the middle-class hides from Botswana’s problems by bypassing them. We take our children to private schools and hospitals so we never face how bad the Ministry of Basic Education and Ministry of Health and Wellness [public systems] are. So, we live in these lives of privilege blinded by what the true state of Botswana is because to us 'Botswana' is all about cappuccinos at the Central Business District (CBD) and pastas in Phakalane. We’ve never entered the wards of Marina or talked to a junior secondary school teacher who will tell you that in Gaborone his/her students are sharing four maths books in a class of 35. That they don’t give out calculators and instruments anymore. That students have to ask their parents to print their end of month tests at home and work.

These poor conditions get to continue because they don’t affect our lives. After all, the teacher, nurse and administrator working in these places are not allowed to speak out but thankfully they can afford to take their children to private schools and they are covered under medical aid so their families never have to experience the horrible conditions they work under. And this arrangement where the middle-class acted blindly to these problems worked fairly well for everyone in the ecosystem, except of course the poor Motswana. The politician did not need to worry because the only people making noise are the poor with no power.

The employee in CBD and Fairgrounds could also carry on living month to month hoping for a bonus and praying he/she never losses their job and the (most of the time multinational) corporate providing services and products to Batswana could remain wealthy and pumping out low innovation, high-cost products. As middle-class, we never needed to care. Until now. Sadly for the middle-class, COVID-19 has upset that ecosystem. The middle-class employee is only being protected by the State of Emergency and has to face the harsh reality that they will likely be out of a job within the next year. The Botswana government machine is also slowly grinding to a halt as we can’t afford the unsustainable way we’ve been living for the last 20 years. COVID-19 has disrupted the house of cards. Money is in short supply and soon the cracks will start to show.

The corporate and businesses dependent on government will in turn suffer as jobs are few and far between and even when you get them, will you get paid on time? To make things even scarier, we are now faced with a health crisis where we have no beds or capacity to take you if you’re sick. We are now all faced with the reality that if you, your family or friends fall sick, you are likely not going to get a bed, nurse, oxygen or doctor assisting you. You have to stay home. So your 'silence' when others complained about the health care system is now facing you head-on. We are now subject to the mental and health challenges the rest of Botswana has been dealing with as you have lived blissfully unaware of the realities. COVID-19 has sadly become the great equaliser. The middle-class has to now take an active decision that it has to stand up and demand accountability from everyone including themselves. It no longer serves you to keep quiet.

Your pressure is needed. Or else we will spend the next year burying loved ones every week. When people cry #VaccinateBotswana, they aren’t doing it to be bad, annoying people. It’s for the sake of all of us. We are all facing the possibility of death being a few days away. And this is a result of all our silence. We have failed Botswana! And this is not me advocating for the Opposition or saying “don’t vote BDP” or “write Facebook statuses about how much you hate the ruling party”. That is not the point.

This is speaking to active engagement in our governance and democratic process; not waiting five years to make your point. So what am I talking about? How many of us even know where the nearest clinic in our neighbourhood is? Do we know its state? How it is staffed? Who heads it and what are their needs? Do we know the challenges of the nearest primary school, junior secondary school etc? Do we even care? Or do we only care about whether Thornhill and Letlhabile have a good Monkeynastix programme, whether they offer coding or which parents take their children there because maybe it will boost our children’s 'network' in the future? Do we ever ponder on what the growing inequality in our country means and how we’re creating a class divide of the haves and have nots and what this means for the quality of education of your families who are less fortunate? That promise of class mobility most of us enjoyed growing up, may not be possible in future because the state of public education is far worse than what we experienced. I read somewhere that in Finland, private schools are actually running out of business because public education is that good.

There is a stipulation that people must take their children to the nearest neighbourhood school but this isn’t a problem because one has the comfort that the nearest school will offer good quality education.

This is not just brought about by government and civil servants, but also by the active participation of parents in running of the schools; being aware and knowledgeable of what’s going on and applying pressure to leaders when things aren’t going right. It really also serves the purpose of being a much cheaper model for all of us. It reduces the cost of living because you wouldn’t need to feel the pressure of having to take your children to private schools. Just take a moment and think how different your life would be if you didn’t need to worry about school fees every three months. And what would the price be? Just active participation in your neighbourhood watch/organisation. So if not from a patriotic standpoint, be involved because it would actually make your life cheaper.

A friend of mine once described their relationship with their councillor (and I think MP) in Gaborone (I think it was the Partial area). They have a neighbourhood watch/organisation and through this, they also engage with their councillor. He/she gives updates on discussions at council, motions and gets inputs from them. Once a quarter, the councillor and MP give a report back to the group and get feedback on their performance. This group does not base their vote on the lies and engagement that come six months before elections because they are engaged the whole time. There is nothing that jolts a politician into action like poor public sentiment. (PS: this isn’t even revolutionary. Remember this is what the Community Junior Secondary School model was meant to be). Replicating the above model across Botswana would change the relationship between the middle-class and our leadership. By participating in giving active objective feedback to leadership on an ongoing basis regardless of party affiliation, we would be able to raise the bar on public service delivery in Botswana. It would reduce inequality and would result in us living much cheaper lives all around because honestly, you all know that those P50,000 to P100,000 payouts annually are heavy on you. Concerning specifically this time we’re in, maybe we would have had input on whether a State of Emergency should have been put in place.

Maybe the collective pressure would have seen beds and ICU infrastructure bought for your neighbourhood clinic. Maybe the clinic would have gotten oxygen machines that the neighbourhood could be able to use when individuals fall sick. All of this could only be achieved if we were close to our leadership and keeping an active score on their activities and deliverables. Maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t have had to have three people that we know every day passing away. This is what we get when we think politics doesn’t affect us.

*Mphoeng is a Director at Spectrum Analytics, a local citizen owned data analytics company that offers services in Digital Transformation Consultancy, application development and process automation and improvement. Previously he worked for University of Botswana as a Lecturer in Accounting and Finance, Botswana Investment Fund Management (BIFM), Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of Botswana

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