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The Ordeals of Farmworkers

MPHO MARUPING

After the dark clouds had fallen, solemn hearts have probably healed, it is crucial to rekindle the debate on farm workers and farmers. Unfortunately the previous debates were clouded by cultural and political connotations, hence the debates were soiled.

A year never passes without incidences of deaths in farms. In most instances, particularly in Botswana, farmers appear to be at the receiving end of these brutal crimes. It is easy for farmers get killed as they leave behind hunting guns with their workers to protect livestock against predators. Instead of using fire guns on predators, those loaded weaponries are used by farm workers as revenge for being abused by their employers. There are cases were farmers have butchered their farm workers. In other cases, farm workers kill each other from a range of reasons emanating from love affairs, alcohol consumption and petty theft. It appears love affairs fights amongst farm workers take the lead.

My submission intends to focus on losses of lives instigated by farm workers on their masters. A year never passes without experiencing painful incidences of farm deaths. Every time they occur the blame is apportioned to the farm workers mainly because of their social status. Unfortunately trade unions in the country have also dismally failed to organize farm workers, due to two main reasons. Even when barrage of attacks are levelled against poor farm workers, they are never protected with resolute voices from labour circles. Dismally, they are often bashed by the same people they are supposed to shield, being trade union activists.

Batswana largely engage in a traditional livestock economic activity, where the cultural-economic activity is livestock rearing and habitually trade union leaders and activists are cattle barons. Instead of protecting farm workers, the downtrodden, they dismally protect their economic zones by unfairly ridiculing the behavior of farm workers. Surprisingly, perpetrators of abuse are left scot-free. The precariat in most cases never receive protection from the law, from the employer and even from the people presumed to safeguard them, as is the case with farm workers.

Firstly, farm workers do not have stable income to fulfill trade union membership check-offs. Farm workers are not organized, because trade unions concentrate on workers with reliable check-offs. Botswana trade unions sustenance mainly borders on monthly membership subscriptions. Unions prefer workers with central salary deduction points. It is therefore cumbersome to collect farm workers monthly levies.  Ironically, trade unions value members’ monthly dues than ideologies, values and socialistic principles.

Trade union members would not either allow their pooled monetary resource to help non-members. Members’ stance would not be strange given that they have not been oriented to recognize that trade unions exist for the larger society. Opening up to the broader society solidifies trade unions strategies on organizing and forming a collective block to defeat the oppressor.

It is crucial for trade unions to afford free membership to precarious workforce, such as farm workers. Trade unions should strive for a ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ workforce from shackles of servitude, as an injury to farm worker should be an injury to the working force. Countries Federations should organize the working class, the precariat and the jobless.

Secondly, farm workers as a ‘precariat’ class live in far-flung places, where communication is burdensome for trade unions to easily access their territory. On that vein, the willingness and vigour to extend solidarity to farm workers has been far-fetched. Trade unions have deliberately ignored their core value, which is ‘solidarity.’ Progressive, altruistic and more nationalistic trade unions embrace workers of different spheres of lives notwithstanding economic ruin of that grouping.

Precariat workers such as farm workers and domestic workers could be given free membership by trade unions. The essence of trade unionism is collective force which is geared towards social changes, and that should not be determined by capital rather by the spirit of selflessness portrayed in collectivism.

There is very minimal or no monitoring on compliance to minimum wage of farm workers. As for the government, while there is no attack on minimum wage collective bargaining, however the minimum wage bargaining council structure makes it difficult for trade union influence decisions due to asymmetrical representation. The most populous trade union federation is also not represented in the Board. The greatest unfortunate development is that the Minister has absolute powers on minimum wage decisions. The MW Board acts on ceremonial basis since it makes recommendations to the Minister who is not obliged to accept the Board’s recommendations.

As a recommendation strategies to address the problem, trade unions could collaborate with the Department of Labour Inspectorate and make joint visitations to farms. Hold joint capacity building workshops for farmers and farm workers sensitizing them on implementation mechanisms of minimum wage. Trade unions should also translate documents and minimum wage regulations, minimum wage schedule and penalties/fines levelled against those not abiding by the legal expectations.

Industries and employers not fulfilling the obligations should be named and shamed. Trade Unions should borrow a leaf from other progressive countries like United Kingdom, where MW Board are independent and clean from political influence. Trade Unions need to know the basket that makes up consumables for minimum wage. The enlisted items in the basket end up having a decent living wage capable to sustain MW beneficiaries.

Another important policy, there should be a fixed adjustment of minimum wage, which makes increment automatic, therefore avoiding other cumbersome and protracted MW negotiations. Lastly trade unions need to arm themselves with better knowledge and skills on MW, which will make them strive fight for a national minimum wage that covers all workers in the sector of the economy, rather than industry based.


Though cases of farmers refusing workers get trade union membership are remote, the problem lies with the government, especially the Ministry of Labour. The inspectors responsible for checking farm workers working conditions are understaffed, operate with limited resources to cover farms.  For instance the whole South East region has a single vehicle for usage by inspectors.

Since the country is a livestock rearing activity most farm workers are abused by farmers. Most farms are in the peripheral locations, where roads are inaccessible, therefore makes it cumbersome for labour inspectors visit farms. Government is not committed to help in this regard by empowering labour inspectors visit farms.

Labour inspectors are either failing to reach farms because of inaccessibility of farms, due to poor roads and communication to make appointments with farmers. Most farm workers are illiterate so they cannot easily express their dissatisfaction, or form trade unions hence the need for trade unions to help them organise. Out of desperation, coupled with living hopeless lives farm workers may end up committing crimes.

Due to farm workers vengeance, they end up reacting violently by murdering farmers out of depression, revenge or hatred. Alcohol indulgence though is rife in farms, may not be the main factor for committing such crimes, there could be other underlining factors such as abuses, beatings, underpayments, belittlements, bullying, denial of leave days, lack of vacations, lack of identity, isolation and depressions.

The minimum wage is insignificant, farmers take advantage of the slavery wages to abuse workers. Some farmers pay much higher wages more than the stipulated minimum wage, therefore making it very difficult for trade unions organize workers. Farm workers are mostly paid in-kind, such as provision of free clothing, shelter and food. In good times farmers buy their workers drinks to imbibe, or even slaughter a beast or goat for a feast. Farmers cover funeral expenses in case of bereavements for farm workers and their immediate family dependents like spouses, parents, siblings and children.

Payment of wages are inconsistent. Herr posits that, “wage dispersion in cases is the most important factor for inequality.” Since farmers are paid wages far below the equilibrium levels, the society becomes unequal due to wage dispersion. The wage pittance received by farm workers cannot afford them a decent living. It thus defies the government obligation of eradicating poverty, the minimum wage works against the government poverty eradication initiatives.

Customarily, the way farmers treat farm workers is often inhumane, discriminative and abusive. There is a strong perception amongst farmers that farm workers are difficult characters to deal with. Farm workers live in squalor, live dejected lives, in abject poverty and eat unbalanced meal. This kind of situation is okayed by most farmers and the general public given how Batswana ordinarily view farm workers.

Generally farm workers are treated as sub-humans, amazingly by social activists claiming to represent the societal grassroots. In other places, farmers frequent their farms to whip farm workers just for leisure. Derogatory remarks are thrown metaphorically to equate a stubborn or uncivilized character to a farm worker. Farm workers globally are abused because of their precarious state. This is a remote area particularly in Botswana, were trade union researchers and academia need to seriously ponder on.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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