Thursday, October 28, 2021

Debswana must lead Botswana’s social transformation

That Debswana (particularly Jwaneng mine in this case) has done well, was not in doubt two weeks ago when I was part of a media contingent invited to tour the mine. Right from the General Manager, Rre Albert Milton, to the rest of the team that diligently answered all our questions and took care of us; the mood at the mine, on the day, was of great pride and a great sense of achievement. And after listening to the presentations, I am not surprised one bit that such a mood would prevail. I must admit, I feel all different after that tour, which is surprising because, I have never really evaluated the impact that diamonds have had on Botswana at a personal and emotional level. I now appreciate even more the intricacies and the delicateness of the process that brings this country the life changing foreign exchange it so dearly needs. I also ponder, with real clarity, the real impact diamonds have had on the economic lives of Batswana and I just feel dwarfed by the largeness of this impact. It is incredible! Despite everything else, this is such a great achievement for the people of this country. In many ways, I wish that this incredible story could be shared and expressed by everyone but that would be na├»ve, would it not? The reality is that, despite this great progress, Botswana’s inequality is still high. This is peculiar for a country that looks so amazing on paper! When you page through our policy papers, you would imagine that you were reading the ambitions of a Western or European country, but try to compare what you are reading and the reality on the ground, and you begin to realise that maybe things are not as they appear. I saw this first hand in Jwaneng.

 

There is a clear demarcation that divides Jwaneng into two hemispheres ÔÇô the mine and the public. You have the mine’s school, hospital etc, then you have the public’s (government) version of these facilities. Execution of duties on the mine side is concise, effervescent and highly methodical, while on the public side it is lackluster, lethargic and utterly despondent. You only have to speak to representatives from both sides to confirm this. This led me to wonder what the world would be like were Debswana to share their processes with the rest of the country. But to do this, I imagine that Debswana would itself need to expand its mandate to Batswana. Firstly, Debswana’s CSI focus areas would have to move from the proverbial three basic needs approach, into a space where human development is a wholesome undertaking. This will help quantify the full cost of poverty and in the process assist Debswana calculate the impact of their interventions. I bring up poverty because it is ever fingered as the root of all the evil that happens around us. To a greater extent I agree. Where I disagree is the limit we tend to apply to poverty, limiting it to lack of financial resources. If we add cultural and psychological dimensions, it becomes self-evident that the concept of poverty is a lot wider than that. In Jwaneng for instance, you only have to go into laboratories at Acacia Primary School and compare them to those at Kgalagadi Primary School and you will immediately notice the vast difference between the two. The laboratories at Acacia are stocked sufficiently while those at Kgalagadi are nothing but bare halls. While Acacia continues to invest extensively in these laboratories as well as other programmes and activities that improve the learning experience of their pupils; such as music, visual and performing arts, swimming and interactive technologies; Kgalagadi Primary School is still to have a robust extra-curricular programme. Throw in social class, family status and structure; a dearth of positive and enriching experiences, literature, media, teacher and parental expectations as well as cultural background, and you can imagine how children who went to Kgalagadi Primary School will always be significantly behind those who went to Acacia. Let me be quick to say I make this comparison with the knowledge that government has a wider responsibility than Debswana; however, I know of countries ÔÇô especially Scandinavian ones ÔÇô that have an almost similar disposition as Botswana, who have managed to afford their citizens world class facilities and a world class life experience. Therefore, it can be replicated here as well.

Were Debswana to internalise this understanding, it would assist them to appreciate that inequality is a byproduct of one’s relative distance from opportunity. The further away one is from opportunity, is the further away they will be from the general experience of life. Yes, income (re)distribution (something that a CSI initiative does) is the beginning of an answer to the inequality that is perpetuated by poverty, but it should not be the only tool that is employed. There are certain disadvantages that have been sewn into our social and cultural fabric that require an overhaul. This I believe is important because their impact is cumulative and it tends to be handed down generationally. So as Debswana looks into the future, it must take an active role in pushing for a congenial social, psychological and cultural experience in Botswana. I am quite sure there will be obstacles, but after witnessing the passion that the team at Jwaneng mine exudes, I have faith that this is possible. And again, this can start with Debswana sharing and inculcating their processes into networks that will eventually propagate this utopia. This will also fast-track the process of beneficiation and as I think of it, I imagine that it would take several decades before its impact can be measured and appreciated. But in the end, true social transformation would be the real legacy that this finite resource would have left behind. And in Botswana thus far, the diamond story is Debswana’s and their legacy is its legacy as well. We can all start turning the tide now. I am ready!

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

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