Monday, April 19, 2021

Career politicians don’t have the exclusive right to be “political”

I was not surprised when the BDP politicians last week wanted exclusive rights to the political space. They argued weakly that the on-going strike is really about government employees, and politicians, meaning opposition party politicians, should keep away from it and not attempt to politicise the government employees’ strike. This was said by politicians with whom workers were angry about. Masisi even went further and argued that as long as opposition parties demonstrated solidarity with striking workers, they were in effect politicising the public service. Masisi spoke boldly without shame – which is a strange phenomenon for a man uttering shameful statements – since it is the ruling party which has for many decades allotted tenders and allocated some top public service posts along party lines. The open secret is that persons have been hired and fired based on their political affiliations. But we must be equally bold and declare that there is nothing that is as political as the demands of workers demanding a better pay. When the workers declare that they need a 16% increase, they are uttering a political statement. When they query government spending over the past 3 years, they are uttering a political statement. When they call for Matambo and Masisi to resign, they are in the area of politics.

Equally, the arguments of Bakwena, Kedikilwe, Molale, Masisi and President Khama on Botswana television are all political. The public service as it is, is politicised. We can pretend and claim that it is apolitical all we like, however the reality on the ground demonstrates that we are dealing with a politically charged environment. Batswana are aware that their demands are political and they are fully awake to the political players in the current wrestle for salary increase. They know that their arguments are political and will be resolved politically. Now, it is important that politicians shouldn├¡t make political, a swear word, especially as applied to non-politicians, because it isn├¡t. When Rammidi was complaining about the deplorable SDA Kanye hospital, some cared-less that he was right; they instead saw his remarks as political attack on the Rev Dr. Seakgosing, “Mr 99.9% is at work”. But Rammidi also knew that he was talking politics – Kanye politics to be exact ├▒ since Kanye voters are the ones who brought him to parliament. And to fail them on a matter of principal concern would be reckless. To complain about medical service is a political statement, so is to demand a raise.

It would be equally reckless for the leaders of the opposition parties to stand by and watch when their voters are crying for a salary increase. Ga ba ka ke ba borolala fela; ba akabala fela jaaka e ka re ke boeyethe ntlo e jewa ke malakabe. Their voices must be heard clearly. People need to know where they stand at this critical time. Not only that, workers unions stand to benefit much if they associate themselves with political parties since their demands are political. Together with opposition parties they can exert pressure on the government. The partnership between unions and political parties is most visible in the tripartite alliance between Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), ANC and the South African Communist Party. The alliance is mutually beneficial. The ANC is assured of political support at the ballot box while the workers are assured that their demands would receive a sympathetic ear in the ruling government. This doesn├¡t mean that the members of the alliance will always agree, and it doesn’t mean that what has been successful in South Africa will work in Botswana. What it means, however, is that the workers know which political force expresses solidarity with their cause. The president├¡s talk of the union of the unemployed has not helped the matter since it appears he cares more about the unemployed than the employed citizens who are helping the economy of the country grow. He doesn’t seem to realise that Botswana is made up of a net of extended family members, in which the employed members support the unemployed members in the villages. We must however contend that Masisi├¡s argument that opposition party leaders├¡ strike support politicises the public service is disingenuous since had the opposition parties urged civil servants to return to work, he would have jumped to praise them as responsible and considerate. He wouldn├¡t have seen their utterances as politicising the civil service.

The strike has also demonstrated, not just to the government, but to the workers, what a political force they are. If ever there was a reason for the employer to avert a strike, it should have been for this singular reason: to try and block the government workers from seeing what a force they are. Daily they meet and sing workers’ political songs. They talk to each in hostile tones, sometimes jokingly about their sorry state ├▒ loso logolo ditshego. They chat about a cold government; a fridge government, which is denying them a decent living. They hurdle together in the rain under the morula tree; together they are a tormented people because of a government which doesn├¡t care. They remind each other that 2014 isn├¡t far. They are aware also that around 2014, the government might increase salaries, right on the eve of an election ├▒ go ba tlhapisa dipelo. But the workers have tasted blood. They now know that they can bring government operations to a standstill if they are united. The future will never be the same. In negotiating with the government, they will now be emboldened. They now know that they have a powerful, effective, political striking force. Moving forward, the word politics is no longer reserved for the overdressed men and women in parliament. It is a term which sits comfortably amongst unionists who demand better working conditions and pay for their labour. The unions can bargain with whichever political force that would guarantee better working conditions for the employee. Those who scorn the worker and instead spend extended times around the village fires, do so at their own political peril. The employees are to be engaged directly and not lampooned before hungry and bemused unemployed villagers.

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