The just ended 8th edition of the annual Global Expo Botswana provided a platform for at least two voices to amplify the call on government to make it easy for foreign nationals to cross into Botswana for purposes of working or investing.
First to call on the freeing of borders was the Managing Director of AON Botswana, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, whose position is that in the case of Botswana and South Africa, there appears to be no good reason for the two countries to be making it hard for their people to move in and out of these economic giants.
“There are more Batswana in South Africa than in Botswana, and many of them are relatives,” he said in reference to his position that there is need to open borders. He shot down the often cited fear that opening borders could lead to more criminal activities undertaken in the two countries.
“The key thing should not be about stopping the movement of people but how to fight crime,” he said as a matter of underscoring his position.
He also bemoaned a new system where foreigners are allowed to apply for work permits, saying it sad that many of the applicants are rejected without any reasoning. In his view, the easy and fair way would be to tell people what is demanded of them to have hope of their application being successful. “Just tell people what the demands are for one to get a permit and that would put people in a position of knowing when not to even bother applying,” he argued.
Making an argument for farmers, the Botswana Horticultural Market Operations Manager, Mojaki Mazebedi, it is difficult for farmers to get Batswana to work in their farms. He regretted that in spite of this, government has made it difficult for farmers to import labour for the benefit of their farmer.
Mazebedi made the call while contributing to a discussion on how easy or difficult can it be to try to leverage on agro investment opportunities in Botswana for sustainable food security. “I don’t know why it is difficult for government to allow farmers to get foreigners to work in their farmers if they are so willing. We have worked in other countries before, providing labour that their people could not provide,” he said, noting the number of our fathers who have worked in the South African mines in the past is very high. Mazebedi cannot really fathom exactly what could be the impediment and fear on the part of government to allow people from other countries to work for Botswana farmers. In this regard, he argued that Botswana should follow in the footsteps of countries such as United States of America and Israel which are importing labour to work in the farms. However, in an interview with Newsbureau just after making his argument, Mazebedi could not refute that it is difficult to argue that Batswana do not want to work in farms.
“I think I will agree that indeed Batswana are not necessarily refusing to work in the farmers but that there is nothing that attracts them there,” he said when asked to explain whether farmers ever bring anything attractive to a table when discussing employment with Batswana who have interest to work in farms. “I would say farmers really underpay their workers hence the reluctance to work for them.”
Still in the interview, Mazebedi could also not substantiate his point that Botswana should consider importing labour to work in the farms. First, he agreed that there are Batswana who can work in the farms and he was further in agreement that countries importing labour offer squalor working conditions that their fellow citizens do not accept.
An international news television station early this year exposed near slavery working conditions that some American farmers expose their workers to just so that they get maximum profits. Mazebedi could not disagree that it would be bad for the Botswana government to allow in importation of farm labour, only to realize later that they are being exploited, made to work for even a farmer who cannot loyal to their promise of monthly payment as it is with some farmers today.