Botswana’s US $1.6 billion mineral wealth has made it one of the richest countries in Africa, but remains as a deeply unequal and unfair nation, a report by Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLaMA) has said.
The country is discriminating particularly to the miners and former miners, who excavated minerals for many years, making the country the diamond hub it is today. The newly published titled “All Risk and No Reward” report on how government and mine companies fail to protect the right to health of miners and former miners in Botswana. The report has underscored how uneven and partial Botswana is to miners.
The report shares findings of the miners’ right to health project’s two year assessment of these workers. On the basis of its assessment, the project involved extensive desk-based legal and social science research and focus group discussions as well as key informant interviews with more than fifty stakeholders in Botswana.
According to the report, miners and former miners continue to suffer deprivations of their health. The report indicate that the workers suffer from preventable injuries and diseases due to insufficient health and safety measures, inadequate training and equipment, coerced labour under excessively dangerous conditions, and a lack of responsiveness on the part of mine companies to address these and other occupational health and safety hazards.
As a result, the report says health outcomes among miners, former miners and their communities are worse than the general population in Botswana, especially form injuries, respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and silicosis, chronic illness as well as HIV.
“Miners in Botswana undertake dangerous work, often living in poor conditions, at great risk to their health with incommensurate financial returns. In doing so, they experience significant deprivations of their right to health. Miners are especially vulnerable to occupational injury and disease, including bone fractures, repetitive strain injuries, loss of hearing and sight, spinal cord injuries, lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases, including HIV,” reads the report.
For example, while the national tuberculosis prevalence in Botswana in 2013 was 383 people with tuberculosis per 100,000 people, during the same year 741 per 100,000 people had tuberculosis at the BCL mine hospital in Selebi-Phikwe. By comparison, the two highest national tuberculosis prevalence rates in the world in 2013 were 715 and 559 per 100,000 people, respectively.
“In another example, the national HIV prevalence rate in Botswana in 2013 was 18.5%.3 During the same year, HIV prevalence rates in the mining communities of Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown were as high as 27.5% and 24.3%, respectively. By comparison, the highest national HIV prevalence rate in the world in 2016 was 27.3%,” the report states. The report indicates that mine companies interfere in miners’ health care, lowering the quality of their care and harming their health. If further underlined that this creates a culture of compromised ethics at mine hospitals.
“Corporate interference significantly reduces the quality of health care miners receive in mine hospitals and leads to poor health among miners and ex-miners. Mine companies also violates ethical standards requiring physicians to “do not harm” and to make health care decisions based solely on the health and wellbeing of their patients,” the report says.
Corporate interference in health care involves both direct and indirect pressure to declare sick or injured miners “fit for duty” when they are not and to downgrade the severity of miners injuries for reporting purposes, according to the report. Poor mental health has been pointed out as one of the challenges former miners and their families experience at times.
The report stressed that this often leads to suicide. Research conducted by the group indicates that the social and economic impacts of the sudden closure of the government-owned BCL copper mine in Selibe-Phikwe and the Tati nickel mine near Francistown has led to anxiety and depression among former miners and their families.
“These conditions have also likely led to the suicides of BCL ex-miners. The suffering and suicides among BCL former miners and their families is further exacerbated by the critical dearth of mental health professionals and mental health services in Botswana,” notes the report.
In this report, miners and former miners in the country face a number of challenges in accessing health care. These include geographic barriers and difficulties traveling to clinics; the lack of specialist care at mine hospitals; the need to pay out-of-pocket for specialist services and second medical opinions at private clinics; long delays waiting for health care; the loss of health care upon termination or retrenchment as well as insufficient access to drugs due to periodic stock-outs at government health facilities.
Miners and former miners are not provided opportunities to participate in decision making about their health, the report said. These workers together with their unions as well as Department of Miners confirmed that miners and former miners are not directly involved in key decision-making processes on their health and safety in government, at mine companies or in the Chamber of Mines.
The report shared that miners and former miners and their family members often receive inadequate and unreliable compensation for occupational injuries, illnesses and work-related deaths, saying that factors contributing to this issue are the under diagnosis and under assessment of miner’s injuries and illnesses by mine doctors and insurance companies during incapacity designation;
the difficulty miners face in accessing their medical records to seek second medical opinions; the lack of miners and former miners’ participation in decision making processes related to compensation; and the narrow scope and outdated content of the Workers Compensation Act, 1998 that establishes the injuries and illnesses for which miners can obtain compensation.
The report suggest that the statistics are just part of the story: As the Critical Issues for the Right to Health of Miners and Ex-Miners in Botswana section of this report reveals, the miners and ex-miners that power the country’s economy experience severe deprivations of their right to health.
It further states that the Critical Issues to Finance the Right to Health in Botswana section of this report further demonstrates that the Government of Botswana and the mining industry fail to generate, allocate and spend sufficient resources to realize the right to health of miners, ex-miner and their communities.
According to the report, since the early 1980s, the mining industry has been the largest contributor to Botswana’s GDP, accounting for between 20% and 50%. It says mineral revenue continues to be the single largest source of revenue for the Government of Botswana. As of 2020, mineral revenue accounted for more than 30% of the country’s total revenue collected at approximately US $1.6 billion.
“In 2016, 90% of the country’s total export value was from the mining sector, with diamonds alone account for 85% and the remaining 5% from copper-nickel.7 In 2018, mining accounted for about 34% of gross value added to the Botswana economy.8 And in a country of with less than a million people of working age, more than 11,500 are employed in the mining industry.”
The mining industry’s immense share of the economy and the co-mingling of government and private ownership among the more than 20 mine companies in Botswana make the industry the most powerful in the country. Of these companies, Debswana Diamond Company Ltd. (Debswana) is perhaps the most powerful. Debswana operates four mines in Botswana in Orapa, Letlhakane, Damtshaa (OLDM) and Jwaneng.10 It is the largest diamond mining company in the country and the largest private sector employer with over 5,000 employees. Debswana is also the largest single contributor to the Government of Botswana’s revenues.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.