As trade unions in Botswana we are compelled to organize workers in dealing with a totalitarian regime and the expanding services sectors. Added to this is the imperative to take on multinational corporations; to create strong solidarity among workers from diverse backgrounds; to forge coalitions with other organizations. Another imperative is to engage young people in the trade union movement.
The trade union movement has in the past been seized with the crucial role of fighting for decent wages, hours of work, equality in the workplace, fare treatment, workplace health and safety, and social justice. Currently the trade union movement has a much greater enemy to deal with.
Namely, issues of globalization, outsourcing, privatization, capital flight and restructuring that have presented employment and income insecurity to poorly organized work force in the country. Therefore, it is inescapable that the trade union movement in Botswana must self-invent if it is to deal with these challenges capably for we can no longer afford to blame our woes on a hostile government, unfavorable economic structural changes or apathy of the younger generation of workers towards unionizing (Kloosterboer, 2007).
Of recent trade unions in Botswana have suffered stagnation and in some areas decline in membership due to a hostile political environment and members beginning to question representativeness of the trade unions on the interests of workers. The most recent chink on the armor of trade union density in Botswana followed the threat of secession by the Botswana Public Officers Union (BOPEU) from the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU). This threat of secession was as a result of divergent political alignment. Such move demonstrates trade union leadership’s inability to agree on what model to take to protect the workers’ agenda.
Due to these structural and fundamental threats to the existence of trade unionism in Botswana I would like to suggest key constructs of trade union renewal in this country. Such constructs will inform how trade unions run their business going forward and what shape they take.
Transformational Agenda and Renewal
Though the traditional role of trade unions in Botswana has significantly been narrowly perceived to be just agitating for better wages and working conditions such perception is not only myopic but completely detached from 21st century trade unionism. Trade unionism has evolved with new challenges such as globalization, economic restructuring, multinational corporations, capital flight, foreign direct investment, the fight against neo-liberalism, etc.
With such new challenges the primary mandate of trade unions is no longer just to increase member density as trade unions no longer only exist for their members. This is in view of the ineffaceable fact that trade union operations shapes society. They also contribute to a properly functioning democracy, boosting voter turnout in elections and giving workers a voice at the workplace (Roberts & Cowell, 2012).
Organizing across Workers Groups
In the past three years we experienced trade unions earnestly organizing across working class groups. A case in point is the teachers’ unions: Botswana Sectors of trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Teachers’ Union (BTU) and Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) move to organize across the national education structure with TAWU especially concentrating among the marginalized workers in the service industry.
However, such organization by the national trade union movement has proven to be less effective as it lacked fundamental ideological foundation. This lack of founding or underpinning principles has led to such organizing characterized by member poaching; back biting, union relationship disputes and loose sectoral integration of such marginalized workers’ groups into the unions.
There is need for a systematic ideology driven mobilization and organizing strategy especially among the sectors with high shares of minority workers if Botswana’s trade union movement is to stay relevant.
The appeal and depth of any serious minded trade union is based on the ideology that underpins its very existence, for without such foundation the trade union is merely a reaction to forces of national power and nothing else.
Please understand that by so saying I am not espousing partisan politics. The orientation of my argument is that without a firm political ideology trade unionism is in essence baseless and tunnel visionary in its approach to socio, economic and political challenges facing both its constituents and the nation.
Bottom up and Top Down Approach
Trade union member density in Botswana has stagnated generally due to dissonance in member interests in relation to leadership action. Many a times trade union members decry lack of proper representation by leadership with leadership accused of taking decisions that do not represent member interests. Therefore, it is critical that initiatives have to come from the masses in order for them to have grassroots support.
Having said this, it is equally important that there is a strong leadership commitment to a workers agenda if union initiatives are to get members blessing and drive. Most saddening in our context is the lethargy within union members to active participation. There is general apathy especially among tertiary institutions where bona fide union members are content with subscribing and sitting back to cast aspersions on decisions by leadership.
Be that as it may, trade unions cannot afford to treat their members as passive consumers of decisions and initiatives they engage in lest they run the risk of rendering themselves irrelevant.
Though there are new dynamics that require trade unions in Botswana to self-invent, it is equally critical that trade unions should never lose sight of their mandate of providing an agenda based on workers’ rights, employment creation and social protection.
Having said this, trade unions’ mandate is much broader than just ensuring income security, safe working conditions, and skill mobility for workers. They are directly involved in systems of economic production and distribution of wealth. Therefore, they cannot disassociate themselves from protection of human rights and democracy.
With this in mind it is preposterous for certain interest groups to berate BOFEPUSU’s involvement in shaping the national politics as all self-respecting trade unions are gate keepers of social justice. Likewise, ‘fence sitting’ as trumpeted by some is in essence ludicrous and nothing else but a game of smoke and mirrors.
However, the notion of ‘fence sitting’ might be appealing to some due to the fact that in Botswana oftentimes enemies of workers’ rights depict trade unions as rabble-rousers serving narrow self-interests that are devoid of national interests.
In view of this, trade unions must engage on a systematic social justice agenda where unions will be seen as partners in national socio-economic and political development.
It is also important that trade unions engage in coalitions on community mobilization initiatives. This would strengthen grassroots mobilization and organization and also allay the misguided notions that trade unions only serve narrow interests.
Trade unions must actively engage in community mobilization and campaigns for social justice such as launching campaigns against government policies that threaten democracy and the rule of law. Likewise, trade unions must be in the forefront in launching community campaigns against social ills such as corruption and abuse of state resources.
It is equally crucial that trade unions in Botswana forge coalitions with community organizations in influencing district and national policy. For example, land allocation, protection of minority groups, use of mother tongue in foundation classes, and distribution of national resources.
For its survival Botswana’s trade union movement needs to ask itself these hard questions:
Does it act only on behalf of a privileged group of workers who are already its members or does it stand to mobilize new groups of workers?
Does it prioritize job security over socio-economic political imperatives or does it advocate for sustainable development?
Are its decision making structures transparent and democratic or are decisions made in boardrooms?
Does it agitate for equal rights for all or does it talk about it with the hope that government will deliver on it?
This said, trade unions must view themselves as critical contributors to social policy and invaluable players in providing the balance between efficiency of the markets and equity for the people (Roberts & Cowell, 2012). This would require a change in outlook.
They have to view themselves and be viewed not only as representing narrow self-interests to being spokespersons of broader social justice imperatives.
David Keagakwa is a member of BOSETU Research & Publications Committee. (This is a two part submission and hopefully we will share the second part next week).
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.