High Court Judge, Justice Key Oagile Dingake has said it is important that trade unions appreciate the nature and essence of law so that that they don’t regard law as the magic wand to resolve their problems and then overburden the courts with matters that can be resolved by stakeholders.
Speaking at a Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) National Executive Committee congress in Francistown this week, Dingake said unions should use courts only as a last resort. “There is always a danger that the courts’ credibility as impartial arbiters may suffer when the courts are used as sites of struggle in high profile polycentric cases whose resolution is not entirely dependent on textual provisions of the law, but rather on value judgements of the justices of the court,” he said.
He stressed further, “As unions your main asset is the strength of your organizations; your ability to organize, defend and protect your interests. You need to understand and appreciate that law is a technique for the regulation of power. This is true of labour law. Power – the capacity effectively to direct the behaviour of others – is unevenly distributed – in all societies. The power to make and enforce laws is social power. This power rests on many foundations, it may be based on prestige, dominance, wealth and ability to organise. The latter is the source of your power.”
Justice Dingake used the words of Dikgang Moseneke, formerly the Deputy chief Justice of South Africa, and recently retired, would said: “You are your own liberators”. Lawyers and other experts may assist, but ultimately, you are your own liberators. He said in pursuing their demands on what they consider due to them; unions must be reasonable, rational and fair. He indicated that they must refrain from making demands that are irrational and are not justifiable.
“Your demands must always be evidence driven. Nothing should be given that cannot be justified. Similarly, your employers must justify all its positions on the basis of evidence, and nothing less. The culture of justification is part and parcel of a constitutional state ruled in accordance with the constitution, not the whims and caprices of anyone.”
Dingake said unions must do nothing that contravenes the law; especially, the spirit and text of the constitution. Similarly government as the employer must do so; the latter, arguably having a heavier duty to lead by example; because disobedience of the law on its part amounts to saying to the populace that it is fine to disobey the law, the Judge of the High Court said.
He pointed out that in the recent past BOPEU has been hailed as the union of choice by its members; it has been at the forefront of advancing and securing diverse range of benefits, maintaining and improving the living and working conditions of workers’ in Botswana and regulating the relations between workers and employers.
“Indeed it is true that a successful union is one that is internally strong that it may be effective in protecting the interests of workers. However, history has shown us that the success of unions also lie with their relationship, rapport and liaison with employers as equal partners at the table. Sadly, it has become more evident that there are opposing forces between the workers’ and employers on the subject of Unions and various labour laws.”
Dingake said often at times, employers the world over, have tended to adopt adversarial attitude towards Trade Unions, resisting Unions for the same reasons that workers desire them. “As we celebrate fifty years of self-rule this attitude can and should no longer stand if we are to build a Botswana for all in which its economic success will be based on workers as the drivers of the economy.”
Justice Dingake observed that the economy will not advance if we don’t take care of the welfare of those who create the country’s wealth, the workers. He argued that workers need a living wage and not so much minimum wage. He said a minimum wage is about setting a wage floor under which no worker can earn.
“A living wage on the other hand is the minimum income that necessary for a worker to meet his needs and that of his or her family. The scales of justice needs to be delicately balanced so that the wage regime does not in anyway imperil the development of the country. Slave wages are known undermine economic growth,” he explained.
Justice Dingake urged unions to pay attention, to the matter of decent of decent work as defined by the ILO. He said the decent work agenda focusses on job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality. The term decent work is promoted through the Decent Agenda and was coined by the Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr. Juan Somavia in 1999, who defined decent work as “productive work in which rights are protected, which generates an adequate income with adequate social protection.
It marks the high road to economic and social development, a road in which employment, income and social protection can be achieved without compromising workers’ rights and sound standards” The ILO is also committed to promoting policies on wages and incomes that ensure a just share for all.
Justice Dingake urged all stakeholders in the labour relations to work together as equal partners in the interest of our country. He observed that a motivated and hardworking workforce is in the interest of the country. The Judge further advised that the workforce must engage with the employer with respect and their demands must be evidence based.
“Similarly, the government response or position must be evidence based. Trade Unions are critical in maintaining workplace stability. A motivated public service tends to render high quality service to the public. In a properly functioning democracy no law should offend the values of freedom, human dignity and non discrimination. In our constitutional state, the above values define who we are as a people,” he said.
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.