The government of Botswana through Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi has ordered Minister of Basic Education, Bagalatia Arone to compile academic records and transfers for the Namibian refugee students in Botswana in what the migrants have termed “forceful and unfair relocation”.
The government’s hard-line stance on the refugees follows a decision by 947 Namibian migrants at Dukwi Refugee Camp to resist voluntary repatriation to their country of origin. The idea to force the Namibians to return to their country is subsequent to the lapse of their refugee status. Kgathi invoked the cessation clause in 2015 but the refugees are still on grace period. The refugees have been given up to the 11th of July to have registered for repatriation to their country of origin. Kgathi says failure to comply will result in them being declared illegal immigrants.
The ministry of Defence has apart from education authorities, written to Ministry of Health and Wellness instructing it to pile up refugees’ medical records as they are left with only 18 days in Botswana. “We had a meeting last week with a delegation from Namibia and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) where we discussed processes not to endanger their lives,” Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security, Segakweng Tsiane said.
She added that, “There are issues of health, education and housing which are very essential in repatriation. It is true we are compiling their academic records so that there will be smooth coordination when they get there (Namibia).” She says the information should be collected so as to understand how many would need education and at what levels. Further, “others are on medication, and we should give our Namibians counterparts statistics as to how many need Anti-retroviral Therapy or any other medical assistance so as we don’t deny anyone their basic rights.”
The refugee students are scattered all over the Central District region with 22 of them at Nata Senior School. Others are at Francistown, Tutume and Masunga, Tsiane added. “We don’t know what is going to happen to our kids who are about to sit for their national examinations since the government is insisting that they will be removed from schools with immediate effect.
Remember most of these kids are Batswana by birth, in Nata for example 21 of those were born here,” said Caprivi community spokesperson, Felix Kakula when delivering a petition at SADC to block their repatriation this week. “Those writing exams like PSLE, JCE and BGCSE may proceed immediately after July 11th others will then follow suit,” said Tsiane.
NAMIBIANS REFUSE TO LEAVE
The Namibian refugees have promised to fight a spirited war to defeat government efforts to repatriate them to Namibia. “The problem is not yet solved. We are not going to register to go back, it is better someone throws you in fire than throwing yourself on [fire]. We want Caprivi to be an independent state as it was before the Namibian government annexed it or there should be negotiations,” said Kakula.
Another member of the Caprivi community, Bothman Ntesa who spoke to this paper supported Kakula. “Wherever the government of Botswana takes us to we will go, in fact we are going to the centre of illegal immigrants in Francistown if at all they will take us there. The registration to go back has long started but only seven have done so,” he stated standing in front of the SADC headquarters.
“Those who do not register may not be eligible for the repatriation packages which include basic building materials and food rations among others,” Tsiane pointed out. Failure to register will also affect students who will be kicked out of school. “We gave them protection as per their request now the situation has normalised. About Caprivi being an independent state is something else they will sort out with the Namibian government,” ministry of defense says.
A source from UNHRC says, if the migrants do not register they will no longer be under their jurisdiction and the immigration laws will deal with them since they will be illegal immigrants. The refugees, on annual basis, cost UNHCR P10 million as they are given food rations, school uniform for kids and transport to school. The Namibians fled here in October 1998 with 100 being the armed Caprivi Liberation Army and 2500 civilians. Their leadership of Mishake Muyongo and Chief Boniface Mamili were long resettled to Denmark in the early 2000s.
The Dukwi Refugee Camp is housing 2318 refugees with 947 being Namibians. Zimbabweans will also be sent packing once Kgathi is done with the Caprivi. Sources tell this paper that already the northern neighbours have been engaged on the matter and they agreed that soon after the general elections in August they will voluntarily go back to Zimbabwe. By far they have engaged the Zimbabwe Minister of Home Affairs and Culture, Dr Obert Mpofu, who has appealed to Zimbabwean refugees at Dukwi Refugee Camp to go back home. Zimbabweans who thronged Botswana after the 2008 bloody elections have been given political refugee tag are currently 687 at the camp.
However, despite the ministry’s unswerving stance on the two nationalities other refugees will be left behind. Angolans, Burundians, the Congolese, Ethiopians, Rwandans, Eritreans, Sierra Leones, Moroccans and Somalis are some of the nationalities accommodated at the camp, but why are they left behind? “These other countries have smaller numbers of migrants, so the idea is to begin with the large numbers first.
This is done so that it would be easy to resettle them elsewhere in the world once numbers have dwindled and it would be clear that there is no option for them hence it is easy to be resettled,” said a source. Further, it is said the reason to repatriate the two nationalities is basically because UNHCR is closing shop in Botswana. “United Nations is clear, if the number of refugees are less than 3000 it does not need UNHCR presence, so we should begin with high numbers first.”
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”