IN TOUCH: Conspiracy theories and haste to reopen schools

What makes conspiracy theories so believable to the gullible people who are too lazy to read, is that they may have one ounce of truth in them which makes their whole theory very seductive. Others say politicians are beholden to certain special interest groups and many of the things they do is influenced by these interests.

Social media being the unregulated phenomenon that it is, is fertile ground for many of these conspiracies to thrive and reach a lot of people, many of whom swallow them up as the gospel truth. When president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that cigarettes would be sold during level 4 lockdown many of his critics accused him of bowing to pressure from the cigarette lobby and tycoons like Johann Rupert who were his known funders during the Nasrec conference.

Many of these people have dubbed Ramaphosa as the ‘pre-paid’ president because of those sizeable donations from big business. When Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma later in the week announced that tobacco products would not be sold after all, the peddlers of conspiracy theories went into overdrive. Her supporters hailed her as a person who stymied the influence of Rupert and ‘white monopoly capital’ by reversing the sale of tobacco. Her critics also came up with conspiracy theories of their own, accusing her of being in cahoots with illicit cigarette kingpin Adriano Mazzoti to dominate the black market trade while shutting down the legal cigarette manufacturers. Whether these conspiracy theories are true or not does not matter as people will believe one of them anyway.

This brings me to the shock announcement by the department of basic education minister that schools will be reopened on June 1. Many people have commented on her ‘belligerent and confrontational’ demeanour when she was making this announcement. Why this indecent haste? We have been on lockdown since March 27 – that is only 63 days of lockdown without school. In effect the schools would have lost only 45 school days if one subtracts the March holidays and the other public holidays in that period. When you add the 16 days of June holidays that you can take off, that means effectively the pupils would have only lost 23 days. When you then add the September holidays and the fact that schools were scheduled to close on December 4, you will see that there is plenty of time for the academic year to be completed without endangering anyone unnecessarily.

If the DBE is so sure that they have measures in place and the National Coronavirus Command Centre has given them the go-ahead, why is parliament – full of sane and sensible adults not opening then? Why would anyone trust that children would remember all these safety measures, but not trust adults of the highest calibre like MPs to do the same? If they can trust that grade 7 and 12 children can adhere to these measures why can’t churches be trusted to do the same? Motshekga said: “Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalised children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.”  

What about the other 10 grades, doesn’t the same apply to them? It brings me back to that issue of hidden hands and conspiracy theories I detest so much. If the schools are totally closed there is no money to be spent on tenders. Feeding scheme suppliers have been out of business for 63 days without any pupils to feed. Other departments which have been open have been dishing out millions of rands worth of tenders and tapping from the R500billion made available by the president for Covid-19 relief. The DBE has been sitting on their budgets, unable to spend it because pupils are at home.  The minister has been unconvincing and appeared in front of the nation with vague suggestions, plus many things still to be finalised and put in place. What is really driving this indecent haste?  I don’t get it at all.

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