The country enclosed in Southern Africa, with a tiny population of estimated two million inhabitants and better known for its diamonds exploits, with a history of Africa’s shinning democracy appears to regress from its gains since attaining independence in 1966.
The tranquillity and harmony that prevailed in Botswana is customarily derived from the prism of the old Tswana adage that vernacularly runs, “Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo.” That means Batswana treasured freedom of expression which afforded everyone the liberty to articulate their views without hesitation. Currently Batswana, particularly public service employees are not free to express divergent views because of the State’s Big-brother supremacy.
In 1997 Botswana government ratified international labour standards to promote worker’s rights and welfare. Amongst the domesticated international laws are conventions 87 and 98, which gave workers the latitude to congregate with assemblages of their choice and the freedom to collectively bargain for better conditions of workers and salary negotiations. The move prompted trade unions to play a significant part in advocating for worker’s rights and conditions of service. However, the government played no part in sensitising workers about these conventions, and therefore, workers organisations had to fend for themselves.
Additionally, major feat witnessed the government of Botswana enacting a progressive Public Service Act (PSA) of 2008, which amongst the advanced articles of the act gave trade unions a leeway to engage in a legal strike. This witnessed Botswana Federation of Public Service Trade Union (BOFEPUSU) engaging in an epic national strike that lasted for three months in 2011 over salary increment dispute.
PSA of 2008 had another progressive article which afforded trade unions bargaining power to discuss issues affecting and afflicting workers bordering on conditions of service and salary negotiations. Chief among the articles was the one affording workers collective bargaining rights by establishing the National Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).
National PSBC gave workers through their representation hope that conditions of their service would be discussed in a legally recognised establishment. The government and workers representation at the National PSBC had equal representation though government representatives always had hegemonic power because they mainly negotiated in bad faith.
Trade Unions representation could always move from their initial demands but the other party never shook from their positions. The major achievement of workers representatives that will go down in the history of Botswana PSBC was the attainment of public service housing allowance. Though it is minimal the government acceded to the reasons advanced by the workers representatives. The workers representation also pushed for workers to be fully salaried while on study leave, which was never the case before.
The establishment of the PSBC strengthened trade unions and workers consciousness grew tremendously. In times of salary standoffs trade unions’ picketed workers and moved around the country informing members of PSBC talks. More workers started to learn about their rights and trade unions became stronger because they articulated issues that prompted workers associate.
When the government technocrats realised that Bofepusu has grown in leaps and bounds they orchestrated the scheme to destroy the federation and make it irrelevant. PSBC was mainly targeted since the government rightly observed that the forum was the main source of strength of the federation. They came up with legal reforms to amend the Public Service Act to weaken trade union bargaining leverage in the PSBC. The following captured summations are some of the amended laws which are intended to cripple trade unions:
Only Public Officers can be representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC. Previously trade unions had freedom to choose their bargaining representatives without the interference of the government. Trade unions could hire academia, professionals and university dons to represent them on specific issues of discussion. They could as well invite trade union employees who brought immense knowledge and expertise to the bargaining council. Since public service trade unions have financial muscle they also poached experts from the government to counteract the regime’s moves. The government then formulated this draconian law to curtail workers power.
The recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC. Bofepusu is the only federation in the public sector with legal bargaining rights in the country. It has four affiliates and it means that each trade union will bring a single representative, basically one representation in an Acting Jointly Arrangement (AJA) model. The model allows trade unions to form a coalition for purposes of bargaining provided one of the parties meets the employer’s threshold. Previously trade union representatives were eight in number with an additional observer team. This entitlement should be left to the constitution of the PSBC to determine the scope of representation, which must be a consensus of both the employer and workers organisations.
The government can confer a benefit to an employee notwithstanding ongoing negotiations. This move intends to divide trade unions as the government may award salary increment or any other benefit despite ongoing salary talks. The government may award the benefits in the pretext that workers need increment notwithstanding ongoing negotiations.
The government recently awarded a unilateral paltry salary increment to workers, which Bofepusu took the matter to court for overruling PSBC. The decision has since been rescinded as the case went into Bofepusu favour. Now the PSBC has strengthened workers hegemony, that ultimately angered the government and it reacted by altering the PSA draconian articles to pass into new law.
The Secretariat of the PSBC shall be the Director of Public Service Management and under the supervision of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Administration. The duty of the General Secretary encompasses the administrative running of the council. Amazingly, it also gives the Minister the powers to appoint the Chairperson and the deputy of the Council. The decision to adjust this clause is solely to appoint government stooges who will work on commands and under full supervision of government enclave. Previously the PSBC Secretariat was appointed by the consensus of both the employer and employees.
That disputes or appeals thereto, between public officers and the employer will be referred to the Commissioner of labour in terms of the Trade Dispute Act, 2003 instead of the PSBC. This was another great law that has since been regrettably amended. The PSBC could attend to disputes referred as appeals and the matter viewed with two lenses by both parties. To give the Commissioner the powers to preside over the appeal is regressive because he is a government employee working under direct supervision of the Minister of Labour. Trade union activists targeted by the employer may not have fair hearings given the position of the Commissioner.
Every trade union recognised under this Act may, at the Government’s discretion, be entitled to have authorised representatives of a union who are public officers granted access to Government’s premises for purposes of recruiting members, or holding meetings. Trade union employees normally working as organisers will be barred from entering government premises for purposes of organising.
Trade union Organisers are employed on permanent basis to help solidify trade unions structures run effectively. Experience has shown that trade union organisers immensely contribute to edifying organisations because they are chiefly on the ground. Surprisingly, the employer may also impose frequency of visits, duration of interacting with members and control places of convening meetings. This is crystal clear that the government is all out to stifle trade unions organise effectively. Accounting offices in various government offices may celebrate the coming in of this draconian bill to subject workers to servitude.
Government shall not be required to deduct any trade union dues or levies from employees’ wages on behalf of any trade union save for union membership subscriptions. Botswana’s trade unions mainly are economic trade union type, basically business unionism. The unions tend to operate as commercial entities, rather than member-driven organisations. Often unions are financially dependent on income generated by deals on discounted retail goods and services.
Sometimes unions partner with business entities for economic burgeoning. The motive is to augment union finances in the endeavour to assisting members meet their needs. At present, majority of Botswana Unions have respectively a Thrift and Loan Scheme for its members. The government move intends to close capital channels for trade unions since they could use capital to sponsor political parties advocating for workers agenda.
The motive of the bill is a clear war waged against Botswana public service employees, primarily BOFEPUSU. The scheme anticipates closing down bargaining council, as well as trade unions by enacting retrogressive objects. Steps used by the regime to close trade unions may temporarily work for the State, but it would be short-lived because the era of rogue and uncompromising governments is over.
Progressive governments have gained centre-stage, as collectivism, patriotism, democracy and freedom are tenets of good governance. Regrettably, these new bills conspicuously omit these critical national doctrines. These objects do not even come closer to our national principles which are democracy, unity, development and self-realise.
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.
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
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