It’s almost impossible to stay silent about COVID19, with literally everything around us abuzz with updates on the new cases, most affected countries, latest deaths, and a front facing camera video by Idris Alba letting us know that it is more real than many of us had initially imagined.
It’s not so easy to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see the whole world standing still, cancelling almost everything but breathing, and at the same time collapsing in the realization that we may all be Jon Snows, we know nothing! Well, maybe not nothing per se, because many of us are experts on a 20second hand washing technique guaranteed to keep the bugs away. We’re also becoming quite conversant in the “gatwe re s’ka ra hug’ana” disclaimer, shared before either an elbow bump, a footsie foot kick thing, or the defiant hug in the times of #COVID19. But really, we know nothing.
I think the first thing in exploring just how little we know, is context. Who are we? I would say a great place to start that conversation is to acknowledge where we are. About an eighth of Batswana live in and around Gaborone, and an estimated twentieth of the population lives in Francistown. That is to say the people most excitable about this pandemic, the population who even know that it is a pandemic (because what is the Sesubiya word for pandemic again?!) hardly even comprise a quarter of the nation’s total population. These figures are from as far back as 2011, and I mention this to illustrate exactly how far back the information we have actually is…even for the city slickers. I will not deny that people in peri-urban and rural Botswana know about this virus, the ways it spreads and how to avert it. What I am sure of however, despite this, is that Maun has been struggling with water for I cannot even begin to imagine how many years now, and there are no hand santisers on the shop shelves, so what were we saying about washing hands again?!
At the time this article is concluded, there are still no confirmed cases of the corona virus in Botswana. That is exactly my concern though, that there is a qualifier to that statement - “confirmed”. That means there are possible cases which we may not know anything about. Listen, I am made to believe (yes I just removed all responsibility of the information I am about to share from myself) that samples from Botswana are taken to South Africa for testing. Quite realistically, I cannot imagine South Africa putting their own tests to the side and testing Botswana cases first, in a time where we are all concerned about just how deadly this thing is.
On the deadly note, and true to this columns’ unpopular opinions, with no confirmed covid19 cases in Botswana, it is interesting to observe that the whole country is up in arms and ready to fight this thing that has not killed one of our own, yet gendered violence in all its forms is right in our houses and we are carrying on like it’s nothing. I wonder how many women have been raped while the whole state has turned her efforts to checking the temperatures of those entering through the country’s gates. I wonder how many women have died at the hands of their lovers, while we stare into the backyards of our neighbours and make attempts to avert the impending ill, which is yet unconfirmed and we ignore our own real monsters. I wonder what will happen when, post covid19, we realise just how powerful we are as a people, just how much change we can effect when we work together, and just how big a challenge we can collectively overcome.
…but listen, this is about covid19. It’s about the realization that the solutions that worked for all the people who woke up when there were still sanitisers on shelves may not work for us; it is about coming alive to the reality that our reality demands our own solutions. It would be great to break into a nativist essentialist chant right now, and announce an alternative to hand sanitisers that our ancestors used before colonialism, when, as we like to imagine, everything was right under the sun. The reality, unfortunately, is I don’t have one. So the truth is that this piece is not one listing things to do, or antidotes to put together for a great handwash alternative. No! this piece is a cry for help, for the Botswana reality – a Botswana who realizes that sure, we may not be ready but we still have to fight this, and perhaps the measures we have in place may not be as adequate as we imagined, but we have to create our way out of this. Sure, we can learn much from the countries which are on their way to recovering from this, if there is in deed a way out; but we must find the things which work for us, uniquely.
I have been reading a lot of social media posts on social distancing and I have heard a lot of people discussing self-quarantining. I will never forget the question asked by Zimbabwean feminist activist, Everjoice Win, who asked for the continent, “how do we self-quarantine in an informal-settlement? Or in a household full of people? How do you ‘stock-up’, when you live from hand to mouth? What will business closures mean for daily/hourly waged workers?” I wonder the same. What are our solutions besides the elbow bumps and hand washes?