Botswana: Where Are You, Mr President!

3 February 2021

Unexplainable delays in securing COVID-19 vaccines!

In a week when countries in Africa among them South Africa, Egypt, Mauritius and Morocco rolled out Covid19 vaccination programmes, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has failed to deliver a concrete plan for the acquisition of the vaccine and its rollout to the population of just over two million people.

Apart from side remarks made by Masisi while visiting frontline workers last week, the nation waits with baited breath for the President and the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force to present a clear road map of the way forward. So far, the only updates by the Task Force are shocking revelations of escalating positives cases and deaths at local health facilities.

Teacher trade unions have slammed the Minister of Basic Education (MoBE) for a casual approach in dealing with surging Covid-19 positive cases detected in schools. Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) have been calling for temporary closure of schools to curb the spread of the virus.

A Covid19 Survey conducted by BOSETU in schools has made shocking discoveries where over 300 students, 30 teachers and 10 support staff have tested positive in 24 schools across the country. Surprisingly, it is business as usual in most of the affected schools while a large number of students and teachers are missing in action as they remain quarantined in their homes.

Good Hope Senior is the most affected school with 35 students testing positive with school's contact tracing exercise on-going. The school is still operational in spite the numbers being high.

According to BOSETU, Shakawe Senior Secondary School is currently not operational owing to contact tracing with 30 students confirmed to have tested positive and all in the school are in quarantine.

Moshupa Senior Secondary School has been closed immediately after one of teachers tested positive and all the teachers in the school are going for testing as they are currently quarantined.

Six (6) teachers have tested positive at Segoditshane Primary School with BOSETU worried that contact tracing is not done in spite of the situation and therefore the school is on business as usual mode.

In an interview on Friday, BOSETU Secretary General Tobokani Rari said in view of the surging Covid-19 cases in schools, the union demands that all schools be closed for at least 14 days. He said since schools re-opened amidst the surge in the second wave which is hitting Botswana hard as shown by new cases and deaths, schools are the most vulnerable.

"Of course there is evidence as shown by the numbers from our survey that teachers are badly exposed. The student community is badly exposed and consequently, this will expose the whole communities where these schools are located. Consequently, the whole nation will become exposed," said Rari.

Rari expressed concern that the situation seen from their report is made worse by the fact that the Public Health Department through DHMTs across the regions have let the guard down too. He added that they have compromised procedures in relation to contact tracing and quarantining.

"We have seen situations where teachers and/ or students would be confirmed to be positive and their close contacts tested but still allowed to remain in the school environment to continue working. This exhibits the highest level of carelessness on the part of the Public Health department as they fail to enforce preventative procedures and protocols," said Rari, observing that it is either the health department is utterly incompetent or they are overwhelmed or it is an indication of a total breakdown of their systems.

"In view of the foregoing, we call upon government to temporarily close down schools at least for 14 days while the situation is being monitored and the Department of Public Health clean up their act," said Rari, cautioning that government may lose the battle against Covid19 in schools.

Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) Secretary General Agang Habana said they maintain the position that schools should be closed, noting that the positive cases have surged in schools as per reports. He said BTU will also compile numbers of infected teachers and students to demonstrate how the pandemic is ravaging schools, cautioning that the situation will soon be out of control.

"We are deeply worried by government's reluctance to act on this worsening situation. BTU has also decided to suspend right away its activities putting into consideration the surging cases," he said.

Molao speaks

In an interview on Friday, Minister of Basic Education Fidelis Molao could not be drawn to discuss the situation of Covid-19 cases in schools under his portfolio. He curtly claimed that schools are safe.

Curiously, Molao went on a tirade complaining about media interviews done by teacher trade unions. "I have informed the trade unions that we will talk to each other. I expect that we should talk to each other and not at each other," he said. The Coordinator of Presidential Task Force team Dr Kereng Masupu could not be reached for comment.

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