Section 12 of the Constitution of Botswana provides for freedom of expression without hindrance. It specifically states that: “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his correspondence”.
The freedom of expression allows one to express his/her views, opinions, ideas etc without interference or hindrance. As citizens, we should be free to enjoy this freedom and it should not be treated as favour from authorities. It is unfortunate that some politicians and senior government officials have made political issues a no go area for unions and public sector employees. They have even strongly influenced enactment of some legislative pieces to take away citizen rights that have been conferred by the Constitution of Botswana! What the constitution has given with one hand, some laws take away with the other hand.
Vision 2016 also states that “The Botswana of 2016 will emphasise the accountability of all citizens, from the State President down to community leaders for their actions and decisions…The role of the civil society, including the churches, the non-governmental and voluntary organizations will be enhanced in the Botswana of 2016. These organizations are a key element of good governance, and will promote accountability within the democratic system”.
The Botswana Democratic Party 2009 -2014 Manifesto which also embraced Vision 2016 states “We believe in the right of the individual to hold a view however different to ours…our democracy is premised on tolerance and our ability to respect other’s opinions and beliefs”.
And the citizens of this country voted it into power to ensure that the constitution is upheld. This therefore logically follows that civil society organizations (CSO) have to also ensure that the conduct and activities of political leaders do not impact negatively on the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens.
CSO, including trade unions will be extremely irresponsible by not challenging politicians and political parties on issues that negatively impact on the conditions of workers generally. There is a serious misconception that unions exist only to promote the working and living conditions of the workers. Of course that is their core reason of existence.
There is a further misconception that unions should not be involved in party political issues. Should this be upheld, the implication is that politicians will run roughshod over workers rights without any one taking them to task. If politicians are responsible for the unfriendly policies and conditions of service of workers, it is the duty of unions to protect the working class and they should come out clear and condemn such. If the politicians hold high offices and they influence enactment of policies and laws that are anti-labour, unions should come up with strategies to remove them from the offices, otherwise the unions will be sponsoring the politicians or political parties to trample on the workers. Likewise, politicians and political parties that perform quite well in promoting labour issues should also be credited and given another social contract by the unions. This should apply to all sectors, like those in environment, human rights, etc. It is unfortunate that unionism and general activism in Botswana has not developed to the highest levels where workers and other civil society activists have the power of deciding who goes out of or stays into which office.
The politicians are on the forefront in trying to silence unions not to express their views about them. Corrupt politicians should be exposed and condemned by all responsible citizens, including civil society organizations.
Politicians have to account while in office and de-campaigned if they do not represent the electorates well. The politicians have to be accountable and transparent enough as well as respect the laws of the country. It is ridiculous that some politicians now want to be immune from the critical eye of civil society organizations when their conduct and activities are anti-labour, dishounorable, corrupt, etc.
Unions should not accept or think that challenging politicians or political parties is a crime.
No workers have died for aligning with or condemning politicians or political parties! It is common in a number of countries, both developing and developed. Should trade unions succumb to the notion that party politics is a no go area, their members are going to suffer untold misery as they will be exploited and abused. As tax payers, civil society organisations through their organisations are supposed to provide the checks and balances so that their conditions are improved, rights protected and resources distributed equitably and fairly. But when the CSOs ultimately take that position, they should have done their research thoroughly and convinced themselves that their move will correct the wrongs they have diagnosed. Otherwise their existence is irrelevant.
So, Manual Workers Union was simply fulfilling their mandate when they came up with their position on some political leaders in the recent national elections.