A day after the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) terminated their membership to the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and publicly endorsed the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) at a political rally, the UDC president and Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Duma Gideon Boko delivered a mouthwatering and moving speech at BOPEU May Day commemoration in Selibe Phikwe on Monday.
BOFEPUSU and BOPEU are at loggerheads over the collective bargaining process in the country. According to Boko, BOPEU and BOFEPUSU should find each other just like the opposition parties did. BOFEPUSU’s withdrawal from PSBC come shortly after they lost an appeal on the stay of execution of the Motswagole judgement against Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU). Advocate Boko represented the Johannes Tshukudu led Federation while BCP presidential spokesperson, Martin Dingake had represented BOPEU.
Boko who was invited as the guest speaker at this BOPEU May Day event just days after losing the 3/4 % salary increment stay of execution case also lectured his audience on the principles of collective bargaining and role of the government and trade unions at the negotiation table. According to Boko workers rights in Botswana will forever be trembled upon by the BDP regime if the trade unions don’t unite to forge solidarity grounds and demand well treatment of their members.
TRADE UNIONS MUST UNITE
“From here it is now very important for the Trade Unions under BOFEPUSU and BOPEU to come to one table and dialogue in the best interest of workers,” said Boko. He observed that divided labour movements can never solicit what they want from government. Boko revealed that the foundations of a united opposition were the brain child of trade union leaders. “I will not mention any names but it is common knowledge that the united opposition is where it is today because of a pivotal role union leaders played.”
The UDC President observed that it was the idea of all labour movements for opposition parties to come together and cooperate towards unseating the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government which has neglected the welfare of workers. “You have played a very vital role in the formation of one opposition formidable force, it is now time for you to do the same with your movements and put your house in order,” said Boko. Boko who amazingly received a shocking welcome with massive applauds from hundreds of BOPEU members shortly after the court case moved to defend BOFEPUSU-UDC relationship.
UNIONS CHOOSE POLITICAL FRIENDS
In his words when giving the keynote address Boko explained that any labour movement has the right to associate with any political organization that it feels could take care of workers better if given a chance to lead. “As trade unions you go shopping, that is to say you move from one political organization and analyze their labour policies and trade unionism ideologies, you do so because Botswana is a political state, after doing so you then have the right to associate, offer solidarity or align nor support any political organization that you perceive can take care of workers well being better, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” lectured Boko.
Boko told workers that uniting was no longer a matter of choice for them as trade unions: “You must first know your right, then understand yourselves as a trade union then work towards forging a common solidarity ground to demand your rights.” He underscored that government needed to respect the workers and their rights as it was the only way the workforce could be productive. “Every decision at the bargaining council must be taken in good faith.”
The 2019 presidential hopeful indicated that government must lay down facts about the economic stance of the country and disclose accurate figures for workers to appreciate the reality with our national treasury. “It is however imperative that when government say there was no money for salary increment, workers must not now wake up to the news that the same government is spending ridiculously on questionable and useless expenditures,” he said. Speaking to Weekendpost afterwards, Boko revealed that he will be taking deliberate actions to reconcile BOPEU and BOFEPUSU.
“It is a fact we cannot ignore that the two labour movements need each other to advance the interests of the workers,” he said. According to Boko, this year’s theme of Unity and solidarity should register as a challenge and urge the leadership and members of the two organizations to appreciate that it is only when they are one that they can reclaim trade unionism space in the social dialogue space.
“Because of our (UDC) good relationship with BOFEPUSU and my cordial relations with BOPEU as demonstrated by their invite of my person here, I will be taking deliberate actions to try and forge unity between the two labour movements,” revealed Boko. Boko who was invited in his capacity as the Leader of Opposition is of the view that for government to listen and respect workers’ rights, it is important for workers through their trade unions to speak and bargain in one voice.
UNIONS ROLE IN REGIME CHANGE AGENDA
Speaking to the issue of the 2019 regime change agenda, the UDC leader told Weekendpost that BOFEPUSU will play an integral role in their 2019 takeover efforts. “Our friendship with BOFEPUSU was established years back when BCP was not yet part of us. Now that means BOFEPUSU and BCP leaderships must come together and appreciate a common understanding of our course,” he said. Boko noted that he will arrange a meeting between the leaders of the two organizations to allow them to dialogue and iron out any issues that might be evident.
“In no time I will facilitate a meeting between the leadership of our new partners into the UDC, Botswana Congress Party and the leadership of BOFEPUSU so as they engage and understand each other better going forward into 2019 takeover,” said the UDC President. He further stressed that after the BCP and BOFEPUSU have ironed out their issues and he has succeeded in bringing BOPEU and BOFEPUSU together the two trade unions under one understanding can choose to support the UDC or not to support.
“Remember I said every trade union has a right to choose any political alignment as they see fit. My primary intention would be to unite BOPEU and BOFEPUSU in the best interest of the workers then after they have united and forged common solidarity if they want to collectively throw in their support to our course as the UDC we will welcome them. We want to take over in 2019 and any support that seeks to assist us achieve that is highly welcome,” he said.
DINGAKE DID NOTHING WRONG
Boko also shared his sentiments on BCP presidential spokesperson, Martin Dingake representing BOPEU: “Well, the reality is as a private lawyer you have a right to represent any client of your choice without political judgment. I personally see nothing wrong with that, but for the sake of our cooperation that is why I have to organize a meeting with BOFEPUSU and BCP leadership to clear this misconceptions. Dingake did nothing wrong contrary to some of our comrades and party leaders, they are entitled to their opinion but the reality is that a private attorney represents whoever they see fit as long as they are observing their practicing regulations,” explained Boko.
BCP spokesperson Dithapelo Keorapetse had also buttressed that BOPEU and BOFEPUSU must smoke peace pipe. “This unions used to pressure us into uniting as opposition parties, we realized the bigger picture and united as opposition parties in Botswana, they must now lead by example and do the same,” said Keorapetse who is also Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West. Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) president, Bohithetswe Lentswe said unions must unite ‘to reclaim their position in the trade unionism space and advocate for collective bargaining and general review of public service bargaining council constitution’.
The leader of BFTU, which is a close ally of BOPEU, underscored the need for united trade unions into advancing workers’ interests adding that the rivalry between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU will only paralyze the collective bargaining efforts. He further expressed disappointment at BOFEPUSU’s decision to withdraw from the Public Service Bargaining Council. He said the decision was reactionary and won’t help the workers course.
However BOPEU President Masego Mogwera indicated that BOPEU is unshaken on advancing workers’ rights. In presidential message read during the May Day commemoration in her absentia, Mogwera stated categorically that BOPEU will not associate with any political organization or whoever is aligned to any partisan political party at the expense of workers’ rights
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.