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Kudos to UDC – BOFEPUSU strategic partnership

Everywhere I go people say to me, ‘Thank you. We are really thankful for a job well done’ . Such is their excitement that many of them go the extent of shaking my hand and giving me a hug. The people hail the leaders of the UDC for a spectacular electoral performance, but I always reply by saying; ‘give yourself a pat on the back because, in the final analysis, it is your victory, you made it happen’.

In Gabane I was among the mainly youthful voters who braved the scotching heat and stood in the queue for over 8 hours in order to cast their ballot. That is how determined people were to embrace change.  Newly elected Molepolole legislator Mohamed Khan put it more succinctly by saying, ‘it was our collective effort’.

Strictly speaking, history is made by the ordinary people, and  not individual leaders – for no individual, however intelligent and strong-will, can alter the main course of historical events. If history was made by individual leaders this country would have long undergone a revolutionary transformation under the leadership of people like Dr Kenneth Koma of the BNF or Phillip Matante of the BPP.

But the subjective conditions for change did not exist at that time. Leaders who appear to shape the main course of events are those who come as the last link in the concatenation of supra-individual circumstances and correlation of  social forces that drive the change process. Such leaders are like the straw that breaks the camel’s back or the drop that overflows the cup.

Those who believe that individual leaders are the locomotives of history claimed that the defection of former BNF and BMD leaders like Isaac Mabiletsa, Akanyang Magama, Mephato Reatile, Samson Moyo, Botsalo Ntuane to the BCP and BDP sounded the death knell of the UDC.

The masses have just proved them wrong. Many of these political turncoats were rejected by the masses during the elections.  Of course, people do not make history at will, but rather under definite objective conditions and a historically determined mode of production. We owe  the voters of Gaborone Central a special debt of gratitude for paying their best tribute to one of our fallen and illustrious heroes of the UDC, Comrade Gomolemo Motswaledi, by voting for the UDC – a movement about which he was very passionate. He paid the ultimate and supreme prize i.e. he paid with his very precious life for the victory we are celebrating today.

Of the masses that supported us in our formidable electoral xbattle with the BDP regime I wish to single out the working class – the  five workers unions organized under the banner of BOFEPUSU for special commendation. BOFEPUSU is a trade union federation of five unions namely, BLLAHWU, Manual Workers Union, BTU, BOSETU and BOPEU.

To the historical partnership between UDC and BOFEPUSU, we say bravo! Hats-off to BOFEPUSU!  My most abiding memory from the 2014 general election was to share the political platform with Comrade Johnson Motshwarakgole representing BOFEPUSU. Not even the wavering and vacillating tendencies of the traditionally conservative BOPEU bureaucratic leadership can alter this historic fact.

It remains to be seen if the BOPEU trade bureaucracy represents their own interests or those of their membership. The BOFEPUSU trade union federation must be applauded for having plucked-up courage to forge a historic partnership with the UDC in the .just ended general election.

Of course, in the run-up to the 1994 general elections there was an unwritten alliance between the BNF and Emang Basadi which contributed in no small measure to the good electoral showing of the BNF evidenced by the capturing of an unprecedented 13 seats in parliament. The was BNF poised to capture state power in the 1999 general elections but this was largely tacit endorsement of the BNF by the women’s movement.

This time the working class movement took up the cudgels and stood side by side with the UDC activists in the battle trenches  against the BDP regime and put their very lives on the line. Not even the mysterious death of BMD honcho  Comrade Gomolemo Motswaledi intimidated them. This time around not only did the unions play a pivotal role in the formation of UDC but they also actively campaigned for it.

This all dates back to the 2011 public sector strike or ‘school of war’ when their demands for a 16% salary hike were dismissed with bluster and reckless abandon by the Khama regime.  In the famous words of  Frederick Engels, strikes are ‘the military school of the workingmen in which they prepare themselves for the great struggles which cannot be avoided… and as schools of war, the unions are unexcelled’.  

Perhaps the single most important outcome of the public sector strike is that it taught workers, not through theories delivered by some revolutionary politicians, but through their own battles with the arrogant but shortsighted Khama regime that salvation can only come about  if unions took a clear principled stand on politics.

Salvation will only come when all the trade unions get together and write a Workers Charter of Botswana beginning with, ‘We the workers of Botswana demand that…’ Salivation will only come when all the workers, irrespective of their different employers, come to the realization that they are all oppressed by the same ruling class. And indeed salvation will only come when workers and poor peasants come to the realization that they are all  oppressed and exploited by the same bourgeoisie both in towns and the rural hinterland and forge a worker-peasant alliance.

Writing on the historic public sector strike of 2011 I observed that ‘. If any one has a sense of triumphalism because the 16% wage hike has not been granted then they are only celebrating a pyrrhic victory. There are no winners and losers in this battle. 

The  impact on the country’s rapidly deteriorating democratic credentials  has been massive and the damage will only become clear when the country goes to the polls. If this government is unwilling to pay the money prize, it must be made to pay the political prize. After all, workers constitute a huge voting constituency. On that single day when elections are held workers will have the power in their hands  to punish these dictators once and for all’. 

And ‘punish’ them they did! For the first time in the history of this country the opposition has scooped an unprecedented total of 20 seats in parliament (17 for UDC and 3 for the BCP) with several marginal constituencies..  And as the results of the elections eloquently illustrate, it was pay-back time for the workers. Today the BDP regime is a minority regime elected by 320, 657 people, while the combined national vote of the UDC (207, 113) and the BCP (140, 998) is 348, 111  i.e. 27, 446 more than the national vote cast for the BDP.

Since 1999 the BDP is sustained in power by the split vote of the BCP. The BCP leadership has a mammoth decision to make; either to find ways of jumping onto the UDC bandwagon or face possible relegation to the great dustbin of history. The mass exodus from the BCP to the UDC has already started. Our call at the beginning of this year for a UDC-BCP electoral pact in an open letter to Dumelang Saleshando was ignored with disastrous consequences.

In the Global Post of November 11, 2014 it is regrettable that BCP activist Lotty Manyapetsa is reported as having said, ‘leaders of the BOFEPUSU should abstain from politics because that is bound to break the union as evidenced by the contradicting statements issued by the leaders of the same union’.. Such reactionary drivel is enough reason why the workers must shun the BCP. The BCP is the one which nearly divided BOFEPUSU by pulling out of the umbrella. 

The first step to freedom in the labour movement is to abandon  false political neutrality and consciously  build strategic alliances with revolutionary parties  while safeguarding their relative autonomy as trade unions. BOFEPUSU has just taken that giant step to emancipate themselves and the rest of the oppressed masses of Botswana.  As far back as 1921 the third Congress of the Communist International addressed the question of trade unions and politics. They made the following observations;

The bourgeoisie keeps the working class enslaved not only by means of naked force, but also by subtle deception. In the hands of the bourgeoisie, the school, the church, parliament, art, literature, the daily press – all become powerful means of duping the working masses and spreading the ideas of the bourgeoisie into the proletarian milieu. One of the ideas which the ruling classes have succeeded in inculcating into the working masses is trade-union neutrality – the idea that trade unions are non-political organizations and should have no party affiliations.

The Communist International argued that the bourgeoisie cannot openly call on the workers’ trade unions to support the bourgeois parties, so it urges the unions not to support any party. The sole aim of the bourgeoisie, however, is to prevent the trade unions from supporting progressive parties or political formations like the UDC. Trade union neutrality amounts to tacit support for the capitalist status quo and denies workers the opportunity to forge strategic partnerships with like-minded revolutionary political parties and movements.

Since 1966 the BDP has been propped up employers, including De Beers while it lulled the workers into a false of political neutrality. The irony of it all is that the millions that De Beers, Dada and Derrick Brink contribute to the BDP political campaign is the sum total of the workers’ unpaid surplus value which accumulates in the hands of the capitalist employers by virtue of the fact that they privately own and control the means of subsistence – land, cattle, diamonds, automobile industries etc.

The fruits of the workers’ sweat are effectively used against them by financing a political party which is ideologically hostile to the interests of the workers.  Even the blankets and radios used to buy votes are made by workers of other countries but are now used to oppress the workers of Botswana. So it is only proper and fitting that workers identify with a party or political movement such the UDC that addresses some of their concerns.   

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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