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Intellectuals and Politics in Botswana

Teedzani Thapelo
 

Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, argues that BDP has declared war on intellectuals, students, and workers in the country, noting that the present crisis at the University of Botswana and Selibe-Phikwe are symptomatic of a political culture of distrust and entrenched loathing that has prevailed within BDP for many years, and that should BDP fail to bridge this gulf between it and the national intelligentsia before 2019 then it is clears UDC can, will, harvest more than twenty new constituencies in the coming election. Is, this, he asks, rhetorically, what BDP wants?


BDP has never been a political home for students, youths and intellectuals. This is a historical fact. Bessie Head, Kgalemang Motsete, L. D Raditladi, Kenneth Koma; it alienated and declared its hostility to them all. No wonder they now want to close down the University of Botswana, the national highest institution of learning. The education system has collapsed principally because BDP is a party of business, and not moral, social and intellectual development of society. They do not care about the future of the nation.

 

There is this misconception that if you feed the stomach, and the economy continues to do well, then you are on the right path to development. What a self-delusion. What naiveté! How in the world of God can we create a dynamic and self-sustaining capitalist economy if we declare war on intellectual culture? No country has as yet accomplished economic development by encouraging its people to live in perpetual ignorance; speaking with tongues, and barking like dogs. Economic development requires national cultural growth and intellectual awakening in society.

 

This is how Europe abolished mediaeval society and set on the road to industrialization, how America abandoned barbarian slavery and rose to affluence, how Japan and Russia overthrew feudalism and set on the path to sustainable economic development, and this is how the whole of Africa will eventually rise above disease, poverty and illiteracy to be a part of global historical culture.


But BDP does not understand this process of development. No, they hate culture and intellectuals. The distrust of intellectuals and ideologists is evident in the history and structures of BDP. The reason for this is simple; once the principle of thinking rather than obeying is accepted, the end will have come for the BDP. In BDP obeying is applied as a binding rule.

 

Not even the press is to be trusted. It is a party that does not self-introspect, self-critique, self-evaluate; its conventional conservatism, spearheaded by a rapaciously greedy and conceited senile brigade operate on the principle: if all fails, then God shall provide. Oh, really? You cannot build a modern economy and society on the conception that within a brief time we will somehow find our way back to God and Truth. This is pure political folly. Not even a truly Christian society is constructed this way. I would go further and say even purely barbarian societies like the DRC, for instance, do accept the need for enlightenment.


BDP is the first, the true, the only source of all the vast evils under which we groan today. All the talk about unfavourable external constraints may have a bit of truth in it, in so far as these are momentary and passing, but the real evil in postcolonial modernity is this cavalier acceptance of ignorance as a permitted form of religion in public life.

 

In this I doubt many Batswana will disagree with me. As to whether this shocking refusal to admit argumentation as a fact rooted in human nature makes sense, I leave that to these angels of darkness. What is regrettable is that we are all paying a heavy price for this folly. How we came to be saddled with this obscurantist monstrosity is something I will never understand at all. But what is the relevance of this observation to politics?


Let me explain. Knowledge is the bedrock of modernity. In economic terms we live in a world of striking net improve in the standards of living. In Botswana much of our social development is an offshoot of South African industrialization. Of that there can be no doubt. Without this remarkable economic history down south this country would have been nothing. In social terms we live in equally one of the most striking and disorienting change.

 

The material conditions and habits of people have altered more profoundly and rapidly than ever before, and a mood of puzzled introspection and self-criticism has seized the literate parts of the population. What has happened, what is happening to this country? These are questions that intellectuals grapple with on a daily basis; writers, journalists, academics, artists, priests, teachers, students, and BDP hates and despises them all.


Why, asks BDP, are they concerned with such silly questions? Why can’t they just gobble food and keep quiet the way we and our children do? The critical question is: will eating food, going to the toilet and sleeping solve the problems of modern society? I don’t think so. They certainly don’t think so at the UDC. Here are some simple facts. The life of this country depends on its articulation with global society. The lives of our entrepreneurs depend on profits, and whatever the sources of these profits, they are not at all remarkably healthy.

 

The lives of our workers depend on their employment and wages, and both are horribly lower than ever before. The lives of our professional classes and intellectuals depend on their employment and scope, and both have declined radically in the last twenty years. The social and political malaise that has become so obvious, leading to the birth of UDC, are certainly due to material discontent and economic hardship. The social and economic landmarks that my own generation took as permanent have been dismantled.

 

Social safety nets have collapsed throughout all social scales. Poverty and unemployment have become the new normal. The proverbial country of morals has become a country of unusually permissive sexuality and venereal damage. The education system has collapsed. A nation that once prided itself on abiding by incorrupt law has become celebrated for the daring and impunity of its robbers, and began to suspect the integrity of its politicians, policemen and judges.

 

What we call the middle classes are really salary earners just about all of whom fall into poverty 3-5 years after retirement. The few rich see themselves as being taxed and oppressed out of existence and, excerpting the thieves that feed with the BDP, most are moving their investments elsewhere. Radical income inequalities have become the norm rather than an exception. We are not by any measure a property-owning democracy. Investment capital continues to elude us.

 

The economy is run by government, and those who fail to adjust to a state-influenced economy suffer. Wealth does not go to the virtues of enterprise and hard work but depends on theft, lies, corruption and immorality. A life of comfort is inconceivable among all workers. Modest easy has already become the limit of middle class aspirations, eroding purchasing power in the economy. The majority of Batswana remain pinching and resentful, a perplexed and angry army of the suburbs and massive supporters of political change at any cost, and the rage of disappointment is spreading to the countryside at an appalling rate-no nation has ever been so angry, no people have ever been so frightfully agitated.


This is the Botswana we live in. This is the Botswana I am writing about. And BDP tells us that old, uneducated men from Serowe are the finest candidates for our political system, and intellectuals can go to hell! Oh, really? Do these illiterates really know what is happening in this country? Can BDP really deal with all these problems? Yes, they do hire consultants, at terribly huge expense, to lecture them on these things, but is that the same thing as solving these modern social problems? I don’t think so.

 

One thing I am certain about; five more years of BDP rule and Batswana will find themselves drinking water from South African boreholes. This is a fact, and BDP does not care. It is all too clear to every Motswana right now that their situation has changed for the worse. We all feel even the possibility of moral annihilation. People who live off wages and salaries feel this sense of ruin.

 

People who live off fees and profits; essentially business and small entrepreneurs, feel the same sense of ruined expectations. People who live off the soil and land; essentially farmers and rural peasants, are on the same boat. Not one person ever dreams of hitting the jackpot of wealth and social recognition in this country. The path to social peaks is so narrow only thieves go through.


You think I am exaggerating? Give me one person, who is not corrupt, who enjoys ample supplies of domestic comfort, excellent education for his children, a sense of being the backbone of the country, and an adequate provision of travel and cultural life that makes him feel a truly living part of global society? There are no such people in this country. Yet, only twenty years ago we took all these things for granted. What happened?

 

People in suburbs are so indebted, and so desperately poor, they use bath tubs to store firewood! Who can blame them? Without electricity and water there is no other alternative. Look at the heavy burden of mortgage, insurance, payments for schools, transport, food, and other corresponding private outlays-like money sent to starving and sick relatives in rural areas; it is hard life; and both wages and salaries have stagnated for donkey years. Middle-class monopoly of domestic comfort has crumbled. In a society in which status is measured by money and the pressure for conspicuous consumption, nothing now remains as a distinctly secure status symbol.


People are terribly depressed. Even entertainment has become ruinous. What is more, sexual intercourse, that biological and social equalizer, is no longer safe to indulge in; even leisure-time wear has disappeared as a status symbol. The only resource remaining to the few who still wear the garb of middle class status is snobbery, and BDP politicians monopolise at it. In brief, an entire way of living is becoming obsolete, and the most reliable way of maintaining a separate style of existence, namely intellectual and cultural activity, is not to the taste of the middle class majority.

 

I want to argue that the malaise of the middle class is due to pauperization and the shifting in the structure of and function of the middle groups in Botswana society. It is a double malaise of those who have not adjusted readily to postcolonial modernity, social innovation, preponderant public corruption, and more significantly, those who have found no adequate and secure place for their talents because of bad policies and a weak and poorly directed educational system. All Batswana must unite to blame BDP for this rotten state of affairs.


The malaise of the workers, on the other hand, is due to economic hardship. I don’t think anyone can say there really are any affluent workers in our society. It would be even a more terrible exaggeration to say the majority of them are free from the struggle for elementary daily necessities and the fear of unemployment. Add to this the fear of old age, with its combination of poverty and emptiness and you truly come face to face with the wretchedness of the Botswana workers.

 

The very insecurity of their already low-paying jobs is a reflection of their social isolation. Botswana workers are pariahs of both economics and politics. They are totally ignored by business, industry and commerce, which supply their wants. The contracts between workers, and the largest employer, government, are so shabby they amount to patronizing attitudes BDP politicians typically reserve for prostitutes, and most private sector employers treat Batswana workers exactly the same way. The attitude is: you are selling your stupid body, not your labour value, so just take what I offer and shut that foul mouth!


This is how workers are treated by the BDP and friends in the private sector. In fact most institutions of the working-class world remain separate and created within it. Even movements from mixed street to single-class suburbs are a rarity. Townships in all cities and towns have intensified this class division in the last couple of years, and the 2008 depression has welded all those who live in their immediate shadow, in Gaborone, for instance, Old Naledi and Mogoditshane, even, Tlokweng, and parts of GamaLete, together into a grim bloc.

 

This partially explains why UDC made such swift gains in all areas around Gaborone in 2014. They are bound to do the same in 2019, and not only in Gaborone. Francistown, Lobatse and Selibe-Phikwe are going the same way. A new class consciousness and sense of exploitation on one side, and fear of an uncertain future, for both families and children, on the other, is being strongly felt throughout Botswana, more specially around urban centres, and it is not surprising Batswana are already waking up to the devastation brought into their lives and homes by an uncaring BDP in the last fifty years.

 

A collapsing education system and a shaking economy are increasingly confining workers and their children to their own world. Go to Tutume, Molepolole, Tswapong, and Bobonong, and you will find parents expostulating angrily against these things, and their children learning to weep for missed opportunities in life. It is a most sad picture. UDC can, and will, easily harvest twenty new constituencies in 2019 if they want to. I repeat, if they want to. Political organization is the only thing that now matters. Much of the mobilization has already been done for them by the BDP-through appalling political failure.


I find it hilariously cynical for BDP to recommend that business take over the task of filling the worker’s world. At this point in time? With the world economy doing so badly, and poverty refusing to slacken its grip on the national population? What’s really to diminish the constant collective battle against unemployment and want?

 

Does BDP really think it can absorb the strongest organ of working-class separatism, the labour movement, into its political routine this way? Isn’t this pure madness! Whatever they say and think about workers in their comfortable private homes, BDP must accept the reality their policies continue to treat workers as outsiders. I know they have tried to enmesh the labour movement in the web of business and government but this still remains, at best, a theoretical proposition.


The reality is that the labour movement, in alliance with UDC, already sees itself as an alternative government. All that remains is for UDC to demonstrate a political willingness to work with it, to adopt a modern and progressive ideology of labour, and the path to political victory is theirs for the taking. Workers will help it decampaign stupid and arrogant BDP loyalists from within government careerist structures; former permanent secretaries, directors, soldiers and many others. T

 

hey have already shown they can do this if they want to, and I think they do; badly. Truth of the matter is BDP treats the labour movement as children, bana ba goromente; as stupid old-style civil service associations. And this rankles, badly. Strike is always associated with unofficial action. Some handpicked labour leaders still regard calls for strikes as signs of rank-and-file revolt. Wage rises are still dependent on the whim of wickedly arrogant senior officials and politicians. Membership to workers unions is not even automatic. In fact there is a marked sagging in workers’ unions, a terrible trend in the face of increasing economic hardships.


This is not the time for the fires in the labour movement to flick out. Workers must be allowed to organise, mobilize and influence the public agenda of the political system; not simply depend on elegies by young intellectuals to survive. What is more serious is the fact Batswana must realize that rapid economic change has eroded, and continues to radically eat at, the foundation of the working-class as traditionally understood, that is the men and women who get their hands dirty at work, mainly in mines, factories, or working with or around engines.

 

It is hard to even talk seriously of industry these days in Botswana. Both manufacturing and commerce are stubbornly refusing to take off throughout the economy thanks to misguided BDP policies and administrative ineptitude. What we see is a slow movement of workers towards tertiary employments like distribution, transport and various services, and there worker mobilization is facing serious problems. Manual labour, always exploited, is declining within government and the private sector.

 

Out in rural Botswana there remains huge demand, mostly piecemeal and seasonal, for both men and women without any qualifications except strength and willingness and these people suffer terrible hardships. The tertiary sector is increasingly becoming a refuge for unqualified labour, particularly in self-service stores and supermarkets like Choppies, and these poor people remained largely ununionized.


Of late BDP has been calling for technical training, by which I hope they mean high specialization requiring a certain amount of training, intelligence, and above all, prior formal education; but for all we know they might be talking of bringing zombies in the fledgling labour market. Fact of the matter is professionals like engineers, chemists, and artisans have throughout history been the vanguard of the labour movement, effectively managing to bring labour right into parliament through strenuous struggles in countries like Britain. Labour must move out of government and organize as a force to contend with in the private sector where real struggles of workers begin and end.


We really have a long way to go in Botswana as far as the labour movement is concerned. UDC has a big role to play here. BDP government, with good reason, regards workers as enemies of the state. UDC must embrace them as colleagues in the struggle for freedom. This is a national duty. It is a crying scandal that our workers continue to face considerable disadvantage in intellectual and semi-intellectual regions.

 

This is not acceptable. There is a terrible anti-egalitarian bias in our education system. The children of workers are caught up in a vicious circle that gives them a worse chance of education, and progressively cuts down their capacities to benefit from what education is available. Education determines access to mostly highly paid wage-work, that is salaried posts, and indeed to most positions of social respect and authority.


Just how many kids and toddlers has BDP thrown off the education system still illiterate in the last ten years alone? Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And these people are voters. All of them know they have deliberately been debarred from ambition. UDC must mobilize these poor citizens, people who in reality have lost their moral citizenship through political neglect.

 

The youth of this country have no future under the BDP government, and they now know this to be a fact. Many tell me so everywhere I go in the country. It is a sad story. These marginalized youths know that even their children will not do better than them in life; not if BDP remains in power. Like their mothers and fathers these children’s fate will be casually and carelessly determined before puberty.


They may expect better wages than their parents; forgive the optimism of youth and inexperience, but the reality is if they ever get good wages, even with low living costs, almost as soon as they leave school, marriage and their own children will in turn reduce their standard of living again. This has happened before, and it will happen again. It is a terrible circle.

 

Even the youths whose education has continued will not do much better. I am one of them. I know this for a fact. Nothing good ever lasts in this Godforsaken country, and it is BDP that has turned the country into a toxic dump. Born in this country you sign up for the badge of permanent social inferiority at a pretty young age, and this BDP calls democracy. It is the way to go. The best the country can ever do.


But is this what Batswana want? I don’t think so. I think we can do better. But first we must get the major national obstacle, BDP, out of the way. UDC has a lot of work to do. Intellectuals must also play their part. This social group is small, smart, and largely disinterested. They are distinct by their lack of involvement in management and government. For the most part engineers, lawyers, academics, writers, artists, priests and journalists, they lack traditional status.

 

These are the people who declared war on the BDP right from its birth. It is not necessary they focus their political dissidence in universities only. They must work with society, particularly workers, peasants, youths and alliance movements like UDC. Batswana must learn never to underestimate the capacity of brilliant men and women to radically effect change in society.


I don’t know how many people realize this but students in this country are already a political force to reckon with. Ignore them at your peril. The youth, another recognisable group, largely through their poverty and social exclusion from public life; and more than half the population of the entire nation, are the political market that will determine the 2019 electoral outcome.

 

Rapid and unprepared change in the general pattern of society has widened the divide between them as a generation and all other national social classes combined. They are angry, articulate and most want nothing but the ultimate prize: government. Who between UDC and BDP will win their political loyalty? Who between UDC and BDP has a political programme robust enough to carry their political aspirations? Who between the UDC and BDP has the political will to concretise their vision of tomorrow? Who between UDC and BDP can tame the passions of these roaring lions and lionesses?


In their brains this social group carries the fire of life, in their hearts the burden of hope, and in their hands that decisive factor, the voting card, and the future of this blighted country. My message to both organizations is simple. Ignore workers, the youth, students, and intellectuals at your own peril.


Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt.

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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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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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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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