Sunday, May 29, 2022

SA civil society condemns Botswana’s use of violent force against protesters

A coalition of South African based civil society groups have condemned the use of violent force by Botswana authorities against protesters, and called for the immediate release of all children detained by the Botswana police.

The coalition further urged the Botswana government and workers unions to consider a peaceful resolution to the wild cat strike action which has caused several schools, medical clinics and hospitals around the country to close.

Botswana civil society groups told their South African partners that the protests were increasingly becoming violent as security forces sought to silence the group by “what ever means possible”. Student protestors in Ramotswa, Molepolole and Mochudi have been shot at with tear gas and rubber bullets while several of them were arrested following protest action in response to the absence of teachers.

“Against the backdrop of widespread civic action on the African continent, the situation in Botswana is at risk of flaring beyond the current boycott into a severe crisis,” said Watson Hamunakwadi of GCAP-SA.

“The government of Botswana and President Ian Khama should display principled leadership and play a crucial role in resolving this crisis by engaging union leadership, student bodies and relevant government departments to forge an acceptable way forward,” said Phelisa Nkomo, Advocacy Programme Manager, Black Sash.

The SA coalition called on Botswana security forces and workers unions to exercise restraint, or risk fuelling a severe humanitarian crisis.

Botswana authorities, the coalition said, should instead heed the call from the Botswana Centre for Human Rights asking President Ian Khama to negotiate a peaceful end to union led protests, which have brought public services to a standstill for the past six weeks.

The group also calls for the immediate release of all children detained by Botswana state police.
The coalition noted that media reports have documented that over 100,000 public servants, including around 1,500 considered essential workers, have been on strike since 18 April, calling for a 16 per cent wage increase.

The Botswana government offered in April a five per cent increase in wages, a move rejected by the unions, which has instead stuck to its demands for a 16 per cent wage increase, saying the increase was necessary to offset rising commodity costs. Earlier this month, President Khama revised the figure to 3 per cent, arguing that the country was recovering from a recession which had left the government with a significant deficit.

Members of the South African coalition also expressed their full solidarity for Botswana civil society exercising their right to protest.

They also stressed their full support for the Botswana Centre for Human Rights (Ditshwanelo) public call for calm and leadership from the government of Botswana to bring a halt to the ongoing public sector strike that has crippled the country for over six weeks now.

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