When the coronavirus hit Botswana’s coast in March 2020, the government introduced a series of measures to contain its spread.
Among the measures implemented was the unpopular declaration of a state of public emergency (SoE) with the aim of taking appropriate and strict initiatives to address the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SoE, which came with lockdowns, effectively limited the number of people attending social gatherings such as weddings and funerals and the outright ban on congregations in places of worship. Some religious leaders and their followers felt that the measure to completely ban gatherings in places of worship was drastic because they are places where people go, to take comfort in times of distress as in the days of COVID-19 . Some even quoted Jesus Christ in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” as reasons why churches should be reopened. Some pastors have even bluntly said that the continued closure of churches impoverishes them.
They added that it was not necessary in the first place to completely shut down the churches since God was the panacea for everything that was happening. Following the drop in virus levels and the arrival of vaccines in Botswana, the government began to relax some of the virus containment protocols.
The government now allows an unlimited number of worshipers in a given setting as long as they follow the protocols (temperature control, hand disinfection, maintaining the recommended social distance and proper mask wearing). While it is well known that leaders of Botswana’s Christian denominations have publicly urged their members to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Church of God Johane (JCG) leadership is still sitting on the issue.
This is despite the various public education efforts that the government has made and is undertaking to educate the public about the importance of vaccinations. State President Mokgweetsi Masisi previously announced that the government plans to vaccinate at least 64% of the country’s adult population (18 and over) by December 2021.
As of December 2, 2021, at least 921,104 people (39.2% of the total population) in Botswana have taken at least the first dose while 508,980 (21.6%) are fully vaccinated, according to presidency statistics ( COVID -19) Working group. As the government makes headway to immunize its population, some anti-vaccines and the JCG’s “white clothes” stance have the potential to reverse hard-earned gains. When contacted by Mmegi, one of JCG’s leaders in Francistown, Raphael Panganayi, was not forthright about whether JCG was encouraging his followers to get vaccinated or not. He said the JCG leaves the decision of whether or not to vaccinate its members in the hands of its supporters. “The church cannot prevent anyone who wants to be vaccinated from doing so. The choice to vaccinate or not is entirely up to our faithful. In short, people will decide to do what they think is right for them, ”Panganayi said.
When questioned further to clearly explain his position, Panganayi reiterated what he said. Anti-vaccines typically cite age, medical reasons, religion, myths, misconceptions, and misinformation about vaccines as reasons for not vaccinating. Mmegi based her questionnaire in Panganayi on the basis that in the past JCG and the government disagreed over immunizing Bazezuru children against measles and polio, among other things, for religious reasons. In 2017, research published in the journal Religion and Health said some apostolic churches threatened the success of vaccination programs that they linked to direct measles outbreaks between 2009 and 2010 in southern Africa.
Over the years, relations between the government and the JOC, which Bazezuru primarily attends, have been frosty for a number of reasons. In the past, the government and the Bazezuru disagreed over registering Bazezuru children immediately after birth, as required by law and in accordance with international treaties to which Botswana is a signatory.
The government encouraged the Bazezuru to register their children on the basis that some of the Bazezuru mothers gave birth to their children in their homes. According to the government, this was used for statistical and administrative purposes, which made it easier for these children in the future to obtain national registration cards (Omang) which allow them to benefit from the assistance of the government. government in various ways. In addition, the government has urged the community of Bazezuru to give birth in hospitals as the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (Ministry of Basic Education for emphasis now) continues to require birth certificates. when registering children in schools in order to reference and confirm their true dates of birth.
In addition, the government encouraged the community of Bazezuru to register children, even those who were not born in the hospitals of the relevant government offices. This was also necessitated by the fact that the Children Act 2009 emphasized the need for parents to appear on the birth certificates of their children, whether married or not.
The issue of free education in public schools was another collision between the government and some Bazezuru families who, due to traditional beliefs, did not enroll their children in school. Some of the Bazezuru families who enrolled their children in school then took them out at primary level before they had acquired enough knowledge and socio-emotional skills that they need to thrive in the future, such as supported the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) of which Botswana is a signatory of.
However, unlike some of their Botswana peers, most of the Bazezuru children who dropped out of primary school defied the odds. They later became successful entrepreneurs in large part due to the business acumen they acquired in their country. However, lately the wind seems to be changing as Bazezuru children attend schools in large numbers.
The practice of not enrolling children or withdrawing later from school was not, however, set in stone as some Bazezuru children excelled at all levels of education, even higher.