The future looks bleak for Botswana’s workforce.
Matters are not helped by the fact that trade unions who ordinarily would be the guardians of the interests of the workers are disorganized, disjointed, unfocused and generally fragmented.
They are also manipulated by government.
To a large degree, their structures are also infiltrated by government agents, including those from security services.
As a result, the odds are heavily stacked against them.
From face value, such odds look almost insurmountable.
The situation is not helped by the fact that in Botswana when one looks critically at the balances of power between the tripartite relationship of labour, business and government, labour is by far the weakest with the laws generally tilted in favour of business, not to speak of strong organic ties between business and government.
But there is little choice.
Trade unions have to approach those odds with fortitude.
Structural deficiencies and legal disabilities aside, organized labour in Botswana is on the verge of its biggest challenge in its history.
That challenge is the ensuing privatization of state assets, which will affect workers in numerous ways.
The leadership of the trade union movement is, therefore, as a matter of requirement, going to have to be more organized, more disciplined and more united than ever if they are to meaningfully represent the interest of the workers.
From the swagger demonstrated by government in its eagerness to privatize Air Botswana, it is clear cabinet is more determined to implement privatization even if it means disregarding the popular opinion, not to speak of breaking the rules and policies set by government itself.
As a result, whoever attempts to stand in the way of privatization, (which, by the way, could very easily go against the interests of workers) will be prepared to be roughed up by a strong government that has lately grown irascible and intolerant.
That is the biggest challenge facing the labour movement in Botswana.
The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), which is the umbrella body of labour organisations in Botswana, has to work as quickly as possible towards forming a solid opinion towards privatization in general.
We know the federation has already produced a document outlining their misgivings and reservations towards the policy, but that is not enough.
What the federation needs to do is to mobilize and come up with different case scenarios as a way of mitigating privatisation’s negative effects on their members.
Even though time is basically not on their side, it would be to their eternal credit if the trade union leadership in Botswana were to embark on an independent and ambitious road show programme teaching not just their members but the whole civic society over what their fears are regarding privatization.
As a newspaper we have said before that we support privatisation as a principle, especially as an economic reform that aims to improve efficiencies of service delivery.
But we have always offered our support conditionally.
The key condition was that privatisation would have to be implemented in line with the aspirations of the Privatisation Policy as passed by parliament in 2000.
We also repeatedly stated that we did not want to see Botswana state assets shared among the “oligarchs”, as what happened in Russia in the early 1990s.
We regret to say that, so far, our experiences with the privatisation of Air Botswana and what is unfolding at the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation are not encouraging.
Unfolding events in those two state entities are, to say the least, untidy.
At the current rate, it’s going to be a long winter for BFTU and their affiliates.
But they have no choice but to fight long and hard for the interests of their members.
This could just be the opportunity for the leadership of the trade union movement in Botswana to earn their stripes, prove their worth and, once and for all, set the momentum and tone for their future place in the tripartite structure, especially their relations with government.