UTLWANANG GASENNELWE| LEMPOETSE KEETSALETSE| LESEDI KATSE
Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation approved a request by Gaborone Hotel owner Bipin Aswathi to acquire more land within the hotel’s periphery, despite the decision resulting in displacement of informal sector traders, who have been in trading in the area for nearly 30 years.
Aswathi was awarded the extension of the land legally by the government through the Department of Lands in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services in 2015 effectively evacuating the traders. The 700m2 space extension has become the centre of dispute between hawkers and the hotel owner, with the war heightening during lockdown when the owner of the hotel capitalised on their absence by erecting a new fence.
The fence has since been removed following intense negotiations, but hawkers only have three months to move elsewhere. The grace period however is not inclusive of lockdown if at any point government imposes it during State of Emergence period. WeekendPost has established that the first hawker occupied the area in the early 90’s although he, together with tenths of others who came thereafter will now be disposed of the rewarding space in a blink of an eye.
This is notwithstanding that the hawkers have known no place other than the bus rank. They have therefore attached business and emotions to the place due to its traffic which leads to more customers whom they built over the years. In a separate interview Thusanang Bagwebi President, Kagiso Masupane said they slept in the freezing police cells over the weekend for their rights adding that their removal from their trading space at the bus rank is heart-breaking.
“We are sad by the development to push us out of this area. We are not happy at all. We came and settled here for a reason. This place brought us more traffic, more people and therefore more customers,” he emphasized. He further asserted that nobody cares to listen to them and their cry, even government – possibly because of their social status. “We do not even have a direct Ministry responsible for us and our plight in our trading sphere,” he pointed out.
‘‘We are probably not listened to because we are from the lower hierarchy of socio-economic class, we are poor with no financial backbone and stand in our society that’s why they are easily pushing us out,’’ he lashed out. The contentious matter have seen old wounds being licked following COVID-19 lockdown as a confrontation ensued between the hotel owner, the hawkers and the Police.
The move led to the erection of the fence by Aswathi during lockdown and subsequently the illegal removal of the same fence by hawkers who were later arrested. It is understood that the business magnate have since 2017 been engaging Thusanang Bagwebi Association, Botswana Informal Sector Association (BOISA) and the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).
“The misinformation and/or reluctance by the Gaborone City Council and Department of Land to ‘clarify’ Gaborone Hotel’s ownership of the (extended) land and the information was confirmed by the Department of Land, Anti-corruption unit on the 26th May 2020 as valid,” the 3 unions stated. Ministry of Lands Management, Water and Sanitation Services also confirmed the land ownership to the naturalized Motswana of Pakistan origin.
“An application for extension of lot 75830 was approved in 2014 to SNB Investment Botswana and an offer was made to the applicant in 2015. The extension, measuring 700m2 was made from a portion of the remainder of plot 13963. SNB Investment Botswana holds title to the land as of 22 June 2015. The extension belongs to Gaborone Hotel under SNB Investment Botswana,” Chief Public Relations Officer Alice Mmolawa told WeekendPost this week, speaking on behalf of Permanent Secretary Bonolo Khumotaka.
It is understood that Gaborone Hotel established that they had engaged Department of Lands and GCC for the past three years in an effort to avoid using force and legal proceedings against the hawkers even when prompted by Botswana Police on the 22 May 2020, after complete removal of the fence.
The move was confirmed by the business tycoon who told WeekendPost that: “I have been having consultations and negotiations with the hawkers through their unions since 2017 and I have been patient with them. I have consequently, this time around, given them three months ultimatum to have moved out of the place.” He stated that they have reached a common ground between the two parties and agreed that they would also withdraw the court case and police case.
This came after the hotel owner dragged them to court through an urgent application to force their removal from his place. Speaking to WeekendPost, Botswana Police Service Station Commander at Borakanelo Police, Superintendent Amos Solomon confirmed that the incident had been reported while stressing that both Aswathi and hawkers have been charged for separate offences.
“Both hotel owner and the hawkers were charged. The hotel owner was charged with erecting the fence during the COVID-19 lockdown and hawkers charged with causing malicious damage to private property,” he pointed out. He further said that their cases will go to court as scheduled.
According to Solomon, if found guilty for contravening lockdown regulations, he emphasized that the hotel owner faces or is liable to P1000. In terms of malicious damage by the hawkers the sentence is 3 years of imprisonment or an amount of between P1000 and P2000. Contacted for a comment, Gaborone City Council Senior Public Relations Officer Segametsi Kebonang hinted to this publication that Council has no plans for the specific bus rank traders but has a master plan for all of them.
“We have a master plan, which is to register all the informal sectors traders and allocate them spaces which they are currently occupying in due time – so that they are formalized,” she highlighted. When asked on national broadcaster regarding the future of the bus rank hawkers being evacuated, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Peggy Serame also stated that they will be allocated spaces but she did not say where nor provide the timeline for that endeavour.
This state of affairs comes after BFTU and BOISA continue their efforts to implore the government of Botswana to review and implement regulations adapted to the needs of micro and small enterprises. These, they highlight, should be alongside the legislation of informal businesses, based on international best practices. “We call on GCC and the Department of Lands to prioritise the land challenges faced by hawkers and engage them to find a solution,” they concluded.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”