Nothing has laid bare Botswana Government’s total detachment to events on the ground than the ongoing industrial relations standoff.
While for the past few months public servants across the country had been planning a tools down, Government, at least as embodied by the Director of Public Service Management did not know about it until over the weekend, when two days hence, the action was scheduled to start.
We should be worried.
If the person who is supposed to be managing the civil service could be in such darkness about what threatened to paralyse and disrupt the entire country then just what does that person spend a day’s business doing in her office?
We, however, draw solace from a suspicion that by saying she was not aware of the strike or what it was that trade unions wanted, the Director of Public Service Management may actually have meant to parrot her principals at the office of the President (State President and Permanent Secretary to the President) who have never hidden their disdain for the public servants demands ÔÇô no matter how modest, restrained and reasonable.
By forcing the government to climb down from its ivory tower and offer to pay close to P2 billion in arrears public service trade unions has proved once and for all that Government can no longer ignore them. Going forward, Government will have to treat these unions as partners who are worthy of respect ÔÇô and there is no putting the genie back into the bottle.
The contempt and utter disdain with which our leaders have treated trade unions have backfired big-time.
While trade unions celebrate their big and symbolic victory, the tragedy is that these silly games by government have gone multiple fold to make trade unions militant.
What our Government does not seem to understand is that its economic future is interlinked to that of trade unions.
No matter how contemptuous the Government may be of trade unions who they often accuse of supporting opposition, it is very important for Government to understand and internalize the fact that they do not have an economic future separate from that of trade unions.
It’s a pity though that since he ascended the high office, President Ian Khama has often sought to isolate the workers and the rest of the middle class from his vision of a future prosperous Botswana.
Because he is so aware that these are the people who will never be content with running after him like countryside peasants who we often see on television flying over each other if only to see or touch him at the Kgotla meetings, Khama has sought to actively marginalize the middle class.
The President’s attitude, which has been copiously adopted by cabinet ministers and senior civil servants, has heralded a ruinous existence of two nations into one ÔÇô where the middle class in reaction to Government’s attitude has had their attitudes hardened while the rural poor are, for their part, forever looking forward to the President’s next visit to their village with the hope that such a visit will bring food to their empty bellies.
We cannot emphasise strong enough how the President’s attitude to the middle class and to the working class has reversed by many years the pleasant good tripartite relations between government, labour and business forged over many years ÔÇô relations of which Botswana has come to be renowned for.
Such a collapse of mutual trust will, in our view, mean that going forward we will, as a nation, spend a long time rebuilding the consensus that Khama’s government has managed to bring down in just over two years.
Of greater worry to us is the negative kind of international investor perceptions that are being created by these unnecessary industrial relations standoffs.