Writing this editorial the day before lockdown is sobering. What message should this paper’s editors share that has relevance at such a time?
Originally, we wanted to opine about the impact of the few new faces in the Cabinet. Analysis of the changes in the Parliament now that there are loud opposition voices was in order. We wanted to query the decision to merge ministries instead of coldly implementing drastic cuts in the Civil Service payroll. We wanted to give a thumbs up to Finance Minister Iipumbu Shiimi and lament the poisoned chalice he has been given to drink. We wanted to cheer for the youthful Deputy Minister Emma Theofilus and wonder why she is the only one of her generation with a government portfolio. There is much to say about the implications of including the NUDO president Ester Utjiua Muinjangue in the government. These issues are important current affairs, but they all seem less urgent on the eve of an unprecedented national lockdown.
We wrote last week about the soon-to-come aftershocks of the Covid-19 earthquake. We draw our readers’ attention to a letter from Dr Chris Brown of the Namibian Chamber of the Environment (https://n-c-e.org/). They are engaging in heroic Covid-battling efforts in the informal suburbs surrounding Windhoek. Points raised in that letter are spot on.
The government should put more emphasis on the impoverished suburbs around cities and towns for their Covid battlefront efforts. It is the masses of underserved, under-nourished, impoverished Namibians, who live in close quarters with poor sanitation that we must keep safe from Covid. An outbreak there would be catastrophic. They have no money for hand sanitizers or disinfectants. And, regular hand washing is a faint dream as there is no running water. What is the plan to manage this situation?
The tourism industry is already hit and has begun laying off thousands of people. This will continue until the Covid crisis passes. The owners of tourism enterprises will suffer on one level, but the cooks, room cleaners, tour guides, gardeners, and front desk workers will face human existence challenges on an unprecedented level. There is no social safety net in Namibia. When you fall, you hit the rocks.
Taxi drivers should anticipate having no one to pay their fares. Clerks at tills in stores will have no customers to ring up. It will be the floor cleaners in buildings all over town that will have no trash bins to empty or unused bathrooms to clean. It will be SMEs providing small services and products to a community that has no income that will be in big trouble. These are the people already living in overcrowded informal areas.
We ask: who will feed these citizens when their families cannot?
Do we have a viable, sustainable emergency feeding plan in place? Methods to provide needed medicines via clinics or temporary check-up stations should be considered. We ought not to crowd people in hospitals at a time when social distancing is required.
There should be plans for entertainment (this can diffuse social unrest). Such measures and others should be planned, funded and staffed now. We need not wait until frustration or fear-filled outbursts happen. The government should make workable plans now (other than sending the army to the streets to beat people or shoot them).
When people defy lockdowns to head to their home villages to find food or be around their loved ones and perhaps bring the city-based diseases there, how will the government handle this?
The lockdown reality may shock many people on Friday morning as they proceed with their lives as if there is nothing happening. Namibia has never faced this before. How does one stay locked down in a zinc shack with a dirt floor, no electricity and no running water?
The day before lockdown is uncharted territory in the Land of the Brave. Let us ensure that our businesses and homes and families are intact the day AFTER lockdown as well.