Sunday, October 17, 2021

Botswana’s Middle Class; the Real Ground Zero in 2017

‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’ ÔÇô Richard Buckminster Fuller

Actually, leading to 2019, Botswana’s middle class will emerge as a strong wild card in the dynamics of our political typology. This is because, since 2008, no one has seen the need to address them and their fears. They lost their already insignificant voice, to the political and ruling classes who were afraid of the broadening wealth base they inherited. The political and ruling classes understand that inequality keeps the balance of power in check. It then follows that if you wish to weaken a society, you stem the flow of resources to the middle class. And that is exactly what happened since 2008. First to die was the voice of the progressive and vibrant civil society that represented a large, diverse knowledge pool on governance, accountability and leadership. They could engage the ruling and political class without fear and actually influence policy for the benefit of all. They are the ones who pushed government to save the economy by providing antiretroviral treatment to those who needed it the most. They are the ones who debated Rre Ponatshego Kedikilwe into a corner about building more dams to ensure water security for Botswana. They questioned Rre George Kgoroba’s credentials as Minister of education and demanded a clear education strategy from government. They pushed for the liberalisation of the airwaves, and today we have private radio stations and newspapers. They even pushed for the unionisation of the civil service. In short, they did a lot more than I have space in here, to catalogue. They could do this because they understood that progressive democracies thrive in an environment that promotes inclusive growth. They could afford it because they were living the promise of Botswana’s democracy. While not as robust as those in developed countries, they had incomes that were above poverty datum lines. They were the real economic drivers of this country. But they lost it all by playing into the hands of the political class who saw them as a nuisance to their sanity. 

 Things got worse in 2011 when the working class allowed politics to define their struggle. Unions became drunk with power and deliberately allowed themselves to become political pawns of the ruling elite. Even when their diverse membership; that cut across the political divide, voiced concern about this, they were ignored. What was an industrial issue, turned into a political campaign issue. In the process, the working class became deeply polarised along partisan lines. What was once a proud civil service that served only one client, a Citizen of Botswana, became a political battle-field. For nine years, things have ground to a halt, stuck on one issue that seems to have no solution: salary negotiations. In the process, Botswana’s democracy has suffered a great reversal in the modest gains made in the past. The working class is in a worse situation than it was before 2008, while the same unions that at one point were considered the vanguard of Botswana’s civil liberties, are trapped in their own game of musical chairs. Both ends of the political spectrum have become intolerant, vile and cantankerous. Corporate governance decisions now need political approval. As for the lower class, they have become the proverbial grass. They are trampled upon without check. Their rights and dignity are violated as they are paraded in media receiving from the hearty treasuries of the ruling class. It is a mess! And this has weakened the middle class further. They are now caught between an autocratic, out of touch leadership and a very militant, ill-motivated working class. Yet they are the largest and most diverse of the classes. Moreover, they are unified in their frustrations with the prevailing political landscape. And that is exactly what makes them a wild card in 2017 and beyond.

 Ergo, anyone interested in winning the 2019 elections is really forced to engage this demography as they hold real answers to the political and economic challenges that Botswana faces. Their forced hiatus from the public discourse is the devil that has turned them into an angel. They know what needs to be done with Botswana’s faltering education as much as they know what is needed to overhaul the health system. After-all, they bear the biggest brunt of the price tag. Above that, they hardly get to use the full expanse of the public assets that are paid by their humongous taxes. They send their children to private school; they use private medical facilities; they install and hire private security to secure their property, etc. Let us just say, they truly and fully pay their way through life. While this; just like the social classes construct, is a morally debased argument, you would be excused to imagine that the people paying the most tax, would be the people most consulted. However debased the argument may be; there is something wrong with this picture, and the middle class knows it and in 2017 will work to change it. This will be a perfect foundation for the evolution of Botswana’s social and economic construct, which by the way has already started showing signs of adjustment. Two people will emerge during this time: a social engineer (political science application) and a social parasite. Either way, change, like a new season, is inevitable. So, buckle up for the wildest adventure. Season’s greetings!

 

*K. Gabriel Rasengwatshe is a business strategist, author and presenter of Gabzfm Business Hour, on Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm. Gabzfm.com.

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