Disgruntled ex-employees of Debswana have labeled Botswana diamonds ‘blood diamonds’ attributing the country’s gems to those that finance, fuel wars and hunger in many African states.
The utterance follows the recent Industrial Court verdict which saw the former employees’ case of unfair dismissal quashed.
“We are the builders of Botswana who have been denied justice by the industrial court judge, Harold Ruhukya,” part of their statement declares.
“461 dismissed employees are those people who make Botswana sparkle and have been unfairly dismissed by poor management of the former managing director, Louis Nchindo and Jacob Sesinyi.”
The ‘builders of Botswana’ argued that they worked their lungs out during employment, building and making the country sparkle only to be snubbed and dismissed by Debswana management at the demand for better remunerations.”
In August 2004, 3800 Debswana workers at both the Orapa/Letlhakane and Jwaneng mines embarked on strike action for a fair increase in payments and bonuses, rejecting what they termed were slave wages.
The aftermath of the strike saw the management, then led by the currently embattled Debswana managing director, Louis Nchindo, and the government declare the strike illegal and laying off 461 workers.
“The strike was completely justified as Debswana management gave themselves huge increases, from millions of pula each, whereas ordinary workers were offered nothing. It was this highly unfair offer that prompted the workers to call for a strike,” the statement read.
Despite the strike being declared illegal and the constant harassment by the bosses, the employees persevered and never allowed the persecutions to take toll.
“Instead, we fought courageously for our rights to bargain and to strike against workplace injustices. We can only talk about what we know… We now call Botswana diamonds ‘blood diamonds’.”
At a court hearing recently at the Broadhurst magistrate court, judge Rahukya dismissed the workers case in which they contended their dismissal was unfair.
The judge said the case lodged was not brought to court properly and accused the applicants in this matter of taking too long to file an application for forgiveness for the late filing of its statements of the case.
Rahukya also noted that the affidavit by Jack Tlhagale, the secretary general of Botswana Mine Workers Union, had been drafted in an inelegant fashion and lacked in material averments as well as being riddled with allegations that, in the court’s view, were irrelevant.
The judge put the blame on the applicants, BMWU, adding that they delayed in referring the matter to court after the certificate was issued by the Commissioner of Labour and that the only explanation made for this by Tlhagale was that of admitting that the case of the dismissed employees was not given the attention it required as that was due to the contempt case, which involved Tlhagale himself as well as other senior members of the Union.
“Four hundred and sixty one of its members had been dismissed. BMWU has always contended that the dismissals were unfair; it should, therefore, have acted more prudently to ensure that it was fighting for the rights of its members and not just sitting back and doing nothing because it was the end of the year,” Rahukya argued.
The verdict would not deter the workers who said the judge erred in the finalization of the case.
The former employees’ statement also detects discrimination and marginalization on the part of government given the number of the few who were booted out.
“3800 Debswana employees went on the so-called illegal strike and 461 were dismissed and our government says fine. What about 3339 employees who also embarked on the so-called illegal action if the strike was declared illegal, why?”
Their statement concludes with labelling Debswana as now being an evil company to the lives of Batswana, who are becoming jobless everyday.
“In 2004, Debswana threatened the lives of workers suffering from HIV/AIDS by cutting them off from the antiretroviral drugs, dismissing children from mine schools. Even those who were on scholarship. Despite their suffering, they are not giving up and want their jobs back. In 2007, the University of Botswana lecturers went on strike, UB students also went on strike and, in the past, the Botswana Defence Force went on strike and none of those strikes was declared illegal.”