How We Got and Stayed Here

There is nothing new under the sun. This truth, like most things that matter in life, is stated in the all-time number 1 best seller, which ignorant people consider a church book. The bible, explains life in a way that those who discriminate against books will never know, except to misquote it. Take the common belief amongst broke people who have no hope or intention of coming out of that state.  Always bad-mouthing wealth and discrediting those who have it, this lot accuse the good book of declaring money “the root of all evil”. But the ignorant retain their rights too! Believing that handing your retirement house and pension to another guy will bring you floods of blessings, for example, is within the permissible judgement error margin.

The enlightened world however knows that life is just a repeat of the past. Nothing is new, because life itself is ancient. When the average Motswana hears a story, which is our favourite pastime, the typical response is, “Since when do we do this? …Where are we going as nation?” Interesting but understandable questions, because the average Motswana has no idea where they are going personally. However, at any given time, the average citizen believes their government is taking them somewhere. Never mind where!

Ignorance particularly reigns supreme in small nations. People of small nations typically don’t go anywhere, unless there is a real push from the forces of economics or a significant disruption of peace within their borders. As a result, life as the majority know it, is the script as written by whoever we believe has the compass. Wider access to television and the internet over the years however, has increased awareness a bit. But there are still things that the country experiences and start to think the sky is about to fall on us. These are usually things that other people have long dealt with and don’t talk about anymore.

Growing up in rural Botswana a few decades ago, I only knew women to wear trousers to the disco at night. Never during the day, although that stereotype eventually melted away with more exposure. The problem is usually not so much what people don’t know, but is in the high degree of denialism. Denialist people believe certain things can never happen to them. Even simple things like shaking someone’s hand, can be dramatized, just because of how that person is perceived. I remember years ago, shortly after the inauguration of the then favourite son of the soil. During one of the meet and greet sessions at some rural village, an elderly person pulled a Simeon by declaring his readiness to die, now that he had seen the anointed one! Welcome to the bundus, where the lesser of God’s utmost creations happily play their role of cheerleader. Not ungrateful city people.

It’s interesting how as a nation, we pretend some things are new and foreign. This behaviour is easy to trace back to our culture of secrecy. Batswana or may be Africans, have things that they even have vernacular names for, just like witchcraft. Yet we will claim some of these things are adopted or imported behaviours. It is common knowledge that disability for example was considered a big embarrassment and something to hide in our society. People with serious disabilities for example, were in some families kept in the furthest hut at the back of the yard. This was to ensure that they did not embarrass the family when visitors came. They were the family secret, permanently hidden from the public’s eyes, even when people knew they existed.

This bad culture of secrecy has unfortunately contributed to our ignorance and deprived us. The truth is, whatever you hide, you cannot deal with. People who live in enlightened parts of the world got ahead because they explored everything and wanted to understand things, especially things that involve and affect human life. Questions like why a child born in a family without disabilities would be born with a disability were pursued earnestly. We on the other hand have spent decades in denial and accusing innocent people of witchcraft, just because they looked poor and a bit unkempt. Not that the better off were perceived any better. While the poor were witches, the well-to-do were either ritual killers, thieves or owned zombies (thokolosi) who worked all night and stayed under their beds during the day.

Our denialism, combined with pretence to knowledge have been our biggest enemies as a society. Asking the wrong questions is the reason we are still not as innovative as other societies. Instead of asking what, we are obsessed with who? Even when we are supposed to engage technical processes like audits, we ask who stole the money, instead of what happened to the money or why it is missing? We are the true embodiment of the “witch hunt” concept. Although, when it comes to money, our behaviour is probably pre-emptive to warrant the question “who?” Hence we are here.