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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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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Opinions

Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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Opinions

Elected officials should guard against personal interest

23rd September 2020

Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.

The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.

The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.

Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.

A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.

The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.

The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.

The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.

We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.

Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.

There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.

In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.

By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.

In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)

IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.

Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.

MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.

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