Monday, April 19, 2021

Enough with government’s “f*** off” mentality

It looks almost certain the envisaged 10-day strike organized by the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU) will go ahead next week as planned. BOFEPUSU compromises of, amongst others, the Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU), Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), National Amalgamated Local, Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU).

Reports indicate that negotiations between the Union leadership and government representatives have reached a deadlock. All attempts to avert the epic 10-day strike hit a snag. After the failed negotiations, and in accordance with the law, BOFEPUSU filed a dispute with the Commissioner of Labour. It has since been reported that arbitration by the Commissioner of Labour failed to bring amicable resolutions and now the workers’ tools down operation is destined for reality.

I have been following the shenanigans between the Union and government and have come to a conclusion government just couldn’t be bothered with the workers’ demand for salary increase. The plight of workers is not even in Khama’s in-tray, so it would appear. The way I see it, if the strike doesn’t turn out to be an empty threat by the Union and eventually happens, it will not be entirely for the reason government had refused to heed calls for wage increase. Most significantly, the strike will go on due to government’s attitude towards the workers.

I’m still shocked that government leadership takes lightly, the Unions’ threats, or is it a promise this time, to launch the mother of all strikes that will virtually bring government to its knees.

Over the weekend, American President Barrack Obama appeared frequently on American national television stations addressing his people on a matter almost similar to the one here at home, only in his case it would have been government sending workers home. The Federal government was facing a shut down because representatives of America’s political parties were divided over the authorization of a budget to bankroll the existence of the Federal government. Obama spent three sleepless nights locked in negotiations with the opposing party. He was at the centre of the negotiations. He made regular updates to the nation. He was concerned, and he showed his concern over the shutdown which could have seen millions of people lose their jobs. Had it not been for Obama’s calm and collected attitude towards the issue, our sisters and brothers who work at the American embassy would have been rendered jobless on Monday.

What I’m trying to show here is, while President Khama finds nothing wrong in bashing out at workers for their demands, Obama took seriously the threats advanced by those on his opposing side and in the end saved government from collapse. It is so unfortunate that instead of showing empathy towards the workers, Khama has decided to be the lead basher. Instead of giving the workers reason not to strike, Khama is giving them reason to show him that gone are the days when workers were mere slaves who took orders from their masters without raising a finger. Just like in the case of teachers, Khama is intimidating workers and discrediting their demands, falling short of labeling them greedy. I don’t understand how the negotiations were expected to yield anything fruitful when President Khama had made it clear that workers did not deserve wage increase. Government representatives may not necessarily have entered the negotiations with a directive from Khama to turn down the Union’s demands but his public utterances on the issue could be rightly viewed as influential to the stubbornness displayed by government’s negotiating team. Khama gave an indirect directive through his comments during Kgotla meetings. We still remember how last year Khama took sides in the matter between teachers and the Botswana Examinations Council (BEC). He attacked and threatened teachers without giving much thought to the repercussions that would come with their strike. The result was the controversial examinations that were written under duress with every Jack and Jill roped in to invigilate.

I therefore would not be surprised to learn that Khama takes this upcoming strike lightly with the unintelligent hope of roping in temporary staff to take care of government’s business. Ipelegeng employees will take over as nurses. Commissioner of Police has already announced he is taking some into the Police force.

I am told the looming strike will attract 90 000 workers out of the 103 000 strong civil service.

The civil service will be paralyzed. Infact it will be knocked unconscious. I’m scared and still trying to find out where the Khama administration draws its bravery so much as not to be shaken by the looming strike which will throw government business into a 10-day comma. My president seems the least concerned. I wonder, does he think workers are only making empty threats that will never be carried out? Does he think, just like me, this is Botswana where workers have no rights over their employers? In the midst of all this drama, Batswana should take the blame for the attitude displayed by the government. They have instilled a sense of arrogance into their leadership. They have turned their leaders into semi Gods whose decisions are final and binding. It is because of Batswana’s submissive and docile demeanor that has for a long time allowed their leaders to treat them as trash. In Botswana when you are in a position of leadership you are entitled to behave like a bull in a china shop with the full knowledge the nation will not hold you accountable.

Batswana seem to think the media should advocate for their rights while they watch gleefully with folded arms. Batswana have made the media to appear as enemies of the State. This is exactly the reason our leaders never miss an opportunity to lambast the private media for doing what really should be reason for their existence as the fourth estate. I’m still to understand why Batswana feel it is disrespectful to call their leaders to order. Why are we so comfortable with being uncomfortable?

When calls for wage increase started, the delivery superman, Ian Khama, couldn’t wait for his Finance Minister to be the one delivering the message of no salary increment. He went to a Kgotla meeting at some village where 95% of his audience are not employed and told them that government was not going to adjust the salaries of public service employees. Knowing very well that his audience didn’t form part of those workers calling for salary increase, he took the chance and poured scorn on workers’ demands. He made the workers appear like selfish, spoilt brats who revel at making unwarranted demands. He told his hungry looking audience how he sympathized with them and not government workers because he would rather help the unemployed than listen to the cries of the already employed. Khama knows that the majority of Batswana who have the patience and time to queue during elections are the unemployed and this is exactly why he is going all out to endear himself to them. He knows that by saying he sympathizes and would only assist the unemployed through Ipelegeng, he would appear to be compassionate towards their welfare.

The painful part is, even if it was true government didn’t have money, it would be difficult for government to convince the workers because signs on the ground betray government’s assertion. While they claim there’s no money, government’s extravagant expenditure paints a different picture. The situation is not helped by Khama’s treatment of the opposition parties. Matters of national interest like the looming strike need to be tackled with the inclusion of opposition parties because in the end, it is national interests at stake. Now that Khama doesn’t see any need to have a cordial working relationship with Leader of Opposition, it will always be difficult for him to approach opposition leaders and ask them to help him knock some sense into the workers or the Union leaders. Finally, I look forward to the day the workers will show that they can stand for what they believe they deserve. Maybe the strike will teach our arrogant government that finally workers can no longer stand this “fuck off” mentality displayed by our government.

[email protected]

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper