Dear COVID-Concerned Batswana,
I write you this lockdown love letter hoping you are well and not too bored at home. Like you, I have been longing for jogging outside my yard once this lockdown is over. I have, however, enjoyed the staying at home.
Listen, COVID-19 has caused illness, panic and death in Botswana. It has also highlighted our interconnectedness as human beings, and we would be worse off for not reflecting on these life lessons. Some of these lessons are harder than others – like what we can learn as a nation from the 14 days where all our legislators, complete with Vice President and President were in quarantine. Some of these lessons are not new: we know that banning the sale of alcohol and tobacco worsens the mental health of a nation.
The first lesson is that, for the world to function, we must always be ready to give up personal freedoms for the good of all. COVID-19 has forced us to stay home all the time, to close our businesses and to miss the funerals of our loved ones. At the same time, the virus has made it necessary to view these sacrifices as the least we can do given the exponential rate at which COVID-19 infects all humans, threatening our species. This terrible time is teaching us that all human beings are connected and to save the human race from ruin will always need us to make personal sacrifices in an ever-changing way.
It is accepted, in our Botswana cultures, to stick fingers into our noses – something that can be quite hard to see for a cultural outsider’s eye. It is done out of boredom and also simply to clean one’s nose. Don’t make me feel bad for saying it, you know it is true. Also, too many Batswana, especially men, usually walk in and out of the toilet without washing their hands once. I mention these tough truths to suggest that with the constant hand-washing that COVID-19 has rendered necessary as a matter of life and death, we have an opportunity to internalize a basic lesson in how serious diseases can spread: always keep your hands clean and wash them regularly. As I state in the beginning of this paragraph, we need to re-imagine even our gestures and habits. It is for the good of all.
The colonial construct (from Industrial Revolution) of how many work days should be in a week (and how many of those days one has to go to the office) is being shaken. Certainly it is time to re-imagine work timetables and how much of that can be done from home. Decolonising our ideas of labour needs us to realize that, in fact, most jobs have considerable amounts of work that can be done from anywhere. If the option to work from will one day become a right, then the best we can do is to learn how to – in our lifetime – work from home. COVID-19 is forcing us to decolonize our ideas of labour and aim for a healthier work-life balance. Will we listen? Will we, COVID-Concerned Motswana? COVID-19 dictates that if we are to enjoy a more technologically advanced future with the values of justice in mind, we will have to make internet a basic right. Information dissemination will always be more effective online than in other media we have known thus far. Currently – in this global pandemic – how many Batswana without access to internet get to see government savingrams, press releases and letters carrying urgent information of public interest? People without internet access have always lacked meaningful ways to influence global players shaping their everyday lives. COVID-19 is merely highlighting that. Will we finally learn? We are being blasted with the truth that we underpay doctors, nurses and researchers. Botswana is not alone in this as health workers are underpaid everywhere. That needs to change. COVID-19 is showing us that, as a nation of two million, we can be wiped out fast by a contagion. The strongest fence standing between us and that grim reality is the knowledge and labour of our doctors, nurses and researchers – why not learn from COVID-19 and pay these medical essential workers what they deserve from now on? Let us all put pressure on MPs to change laws around the remuneration of doctors, nurses and researchers while the COVID-19 case study is still fresh in their minds. Lastly, I believe that COVID-19 is teaching us to re-learn how to be alone. With extreme social-distancing being the order of the day, we are hopefully learning to reconnect with our true selves. We all could use some reflection. The reflection we desire at national level must begin at personal individual level. At this time when Botswana’s defilement cases are out of control, we must all pause and reflect on what we do to children’s future when we carry on with the world as we have always known it. Not all the things we have normalized are meant to be normal. That is the biggest lesson from COVID-19 and may we apply it to all our reflection on daily life, power and justice. Write me soon. I would like to hear more from you about what you intend to do about yet another Member of Parliament being accused of defiling a child. These are normalizations of violence in Botswana that COVID-19 in its revelatory nature is asking us to do finally face. Will you look away again?
· Donald Molosi is an actor and writer. His latest book is called Dear Upright African and his new film is called 2064.