Khama Should Be Emulated, Not Demonised On Cleanliness

Winter funerals have been on the rise. Although in the majority of cases, the deceased are those who have lived with a chronic condition, many are always reported to have passed on after short illness.

The message from the caregivers tend to always go “ga a lwala, o ne a lela ka tlhogo, a hupela, a na le sehuba…” 

Without any medical background to back my theory, I have come to the conclusion that the extreme long winters in recent years, those already with compromised immune systems from non-communicable diseases, find it hard to fight influenza, the incurable virus that is in most cases taken lightly until it claims a life.  As we all have come to know, influenza and the common colds can spread like veldt fires, unless there is some form of containment. Something most of us see no value in, until we are all infected.

Funerals and others major gatherings are some of the fertile grounds for the spread of this virus. In the past, from the graveyard, we would return to the deceased’s home and at the entrance we would queue to wash our hands in water steeped in some traditional herbs, to ‘cleanse’ ourselves of the ‘death spirit’.  The water was never clean, as all hands, possibly carrying all kinds of diseases, including the virus that might have taken the deceased and possibly still alive in the hands of the caregivers, dipped in there. Without knowing it, we could have easily been washing in the waters of death.

Thankfully this tradition has changed, for the better. We still wash our hands at the entrance, but with clean water. On return from the graveyard, the mourners are met by servers with buckets of clean water, and a big plastic cup to wash hands, over another container to capture the dirty running water.

This change came about at the height of the HIV/AIDS attack. In the 1990s especially, we were hit hard, cemeteries filling up faster than the maternity rooms could deliver. We had funerals almost all days of the week, not weekends only as it was in the past. The fear was real, while stigma was unfortunately on the high, there was also a rise in the realisation that certain practices could worsen our dire situation. There was need for change.

In the 2000s, with the outbreak of Ebola in many African countries, and our health authorities raising alarm, Batswana listened and heeded the call, not only to avoid contamination at gatherings as funerals and weddings, but all other public spaces.

Overtime, we were introduced to the world that says: every time, everywhere, play safe. We were taught to wash our hands with soap after using toilets in public places.

Time and again we would be hit with an outbreak of diarrhoea and the Ministry of Health would be all over the place teaching not only school children but the nation at large, to take the message of cleanliness to lifestyle levels. During her time as the Minister of Health, one can only assume Dorcus Makgato was leading the troops in the war-rooms. She would not only have headed the campaign, but assumedly ensured the leadership, including her then principal, President Ian Khama, played safe; that she ensured the president’s staff always carried sanitised cloths for the boss to wipe his hands, all the time, after any sort of meeting or gatherings.

Okay this is election time. A silly season! It is time where everything goes. As much as some may wish politicians and political party activists would confine themselves to ‘bread and butter’ issues, that which speaks to intentions for a better life for all, it is not happening. Out there, it is mudslinging.

So when minister Makgato came guns blazing against Khama last week, I was not shocked, and was not about to carry a placard stating ‘eseng mo go Kgosikgolo’. No chance. Makgato was pushed to the corner by the former president, who has made it known that he had his rifle (figuratively) was pointed at her and a few ruling party candidates. He was on a mission to de-campaign her, and Makgato was shooting back. And she took her aim, and hit hard.

All other issues the Member of Parliament for Sefhare-Ramokgonami raised against her former boss, are of less concern to me, but could be for her electorate.

What is of concern though, is the issue she raised about Khama always carrying sanitised cloths in his vehicles, to wipe his hands after greeting members of the public.

She was in a sense telling Batswana, ‘Khama oa lo shema’. I disagree. In her frustration, Makgato lost it there. If anything, Khama should be applauded for living up to public healthy safety message.

Such a revelation, instead of being demonised, should be popularised as an act of responsibility. It says Khama is walking the talk. However how much we dislike the former president, we cannot take him to the slaughterhouse for doing what all leaders, and ordinary us should be doing.

Just as a footnote, today, in major shopping malls, big supermarkets, healthcare facilities, airports, there are sanitised wipes at the entrances and the public is always encouraged to wipe their hands, for their own, and others’ safety.  The health conscious have gone a step further by carrying sanitised wipes and liquid bottles around.

I know schools, private ones mainly, that encourage parents to ensure children always have sanitised liquid bottles in their school backs. It is not products to show disrespect of others, but life-saving tools. It is a life-style, for public health safety.

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