Thursday, April 9, 2020

The marvel of words!

There is a general trend in the country to label any one who questions Botswana’s development model and subjects the nature of the state to criticism.

The ammunition of neo-conservatives and their cheerleaders is labelling ÔÇô Communist dinosaurs, Marxists, left wing lunatics, anarchists etc.
Further, for those in authority and power, the etiquette of respectable public discourse is their domain.
Those holding an opposing view to them are deemed reckless, crude and ill-mannered in their public debates.
It is those in authority that define the rules of public discourse and we have to submit to them.

This is what emerges from Honourable Ntuane’s rejoinder to my opinion piece on his perceived welfare state. Furthermore, as products of the so called welfare state, we are counselled not to dare question the credentials of that state as this only amounts to hypocrisy.

Well, it is an old tune and we are accustomed to it, dull though it is.
At the height of the Balopi Commission, vocal minority groups that sought constitutional recognition were reminded of Rwanda and cautioned against disturbing peace; peace that rests on a democratic myth.

When the state bungled in handling the relocation of Basarwa from CKGR, any dissenting voice was branded unpatriotic. The rules still applied; the rules of subjecting self to social injustice in the name courtesy, peace, patriotism and refined public discourse.
Deference to authority is the dictum.

As I am not party to the formulation of those rules, the little rebel in me tells me that I should not submit to them. My subject was not conflicts in opposition parties. Neither was it about questioning the credentials of the honourable MP to talk about the welfare state. It was about his narrow conception of the welfare state and the phenomenon driving present market reforms ÔÇô Neo-Liberalism, which he failed to question. He conveniently skirts over this issue by simply labelling it Marxists railing against the neo-liberal agenda.

Joe Slovo, The South African Communist giant, was often demonised by the apartheid regime.

Despite this, the wretched of the earth’s love for him was unquestionable. After all, he was just an ordinary human like them, only driven by an unwavering concern for social justice. Slovo’s humanity was also seen in his humorous side. In Slovo’s unfinished autobiography, one of his former comrades in the SACP Central Committee, Thenjiwe Mtintso, writes: “I especially remember one commissariat meeting in Mozambique. The comrade, well known for being long-winded, who was speaking, adopted “nitty gritty” as his key phrase. He kept using it over and over. Joe was writing on his pad. I noticed he registered every time the comrade said “nitty gritty”. The he wrote something more at the bottom of the pad. I could not contain my curiosity and peeped over and saw he had written, “CDE X HAS DISCOVERED THE MARVEL OF WORDS!” Now I couldn’t contain my laughter. As I was reading the honourable MP’s rejoinder, I took count: 4 forums in which he talked about the “welfare state”, 23 references to ‘Welfare state” and 26 references to Mino Polelo in his text. Indeed “THE HONOURABLE MP HAS DISCOVERED THE MARVEL OF WORDS ÔÇô THE WELFARE STATE” flavoured with Mino Polelo. The rest is the usual self-eulogisation and a selective quotation of statistics. No wonder there are texts like “How to lie with statistics” and “How not to lie with statistics.”

Let’s balance them with more number crunching on the unindustrialised “welfare state”.
According to the 2006 UN Human Development Report, 23.5 percent of Botswana’s population subsist on US $1 (P6) a day, while 50.1 percent of the population lives on US $2 (P12) a day, that is, out of a population of 1.7 million people, 850000 survive on P12 a day. Tell me if all these people are captured by the social welfare net. Compare this with South Africa where 10.7 percent of the population lives on $1 a day and 34.1 on $2 a day. These figures are also above all countries in Latin America, many of which are not endowed with the resources that Botswana has. Chile 2 percent ($1 a day) and 9.6 percent ($2 a day), Brazil: 7.5 percent & 21 percent; Columbia; 7 percent & 17.8 percent; Venezuela; 8.3 & 27.6 percent, Peru; 12.5 & 31.8 percent, Bolivia; 3.2 & 44.2 percent.

Further, in the human poverty index, Botswana ranks 93 out of 102 developing countries, surpassed by low income countries such as Lesotho, the Gambia, and Zambia and Bangladesh. On the population with sustainable access to improved sanitation, in 1990 it was 38 percent and 42 percent in 2004, well below many countries in Latin America, some of which have 70-80 percent of their people having proper and improved sanitation. On the undernourished population, in 1990/1992, 23 percent of the population was undernourished and this increased to 30 percent in 2001/2003. . The country still does no match the countries in the Latin American region, e.g. Peru slashed its undernourished population from 42 percent in 1990/1992 to 12 percent in 2001/2003, Venezuela had 11 percent and 18 percent in the same period, while Brazil had reduced this from 12 percent to a single figure of 8 percent.
On income inequalities, shocking staff, Sir!

Based on the 1993 survey year, the poorest 20 percent get 2.2 percent share of the national income while the richest 20 percent share is 70.3 percent.
On the other hand, the poorest 10 percent get a share of 0.7 percent of national income while their richest 10 percent counterparts get 56.6 percent.
One of the measures of inequality is the Gini index. Botswana’s is 63, one of the highest in the world.

It’s in league with Namibia at 74.3, Lesotho at 63.2 and Bolivia at 60.1.
It is important to note that as compared to these other countries, our economy puts us in a better position to harness inequality ÔÇô say in comparison with Namibia and Lesotho.

But the will is not there.

We just cherish self-praise that has no basis.

These figures are some of the highest in the developing world, clearly showing that the honey of the “African miracle” land is for an insignificant minority.

The miracle you so profess, never was for the majority of our people. Space limiting, we could go on and look at issues of housing, agriculture and health. The fortnightly reports coming from The Sunday Standard about our health system certainly reflect a health system that is crumbling with its institutions transforming into death chambers. But it is not a big issue because the privileged can go to GPH where there is efficiency at a private cost! Admittedly, the country is doing well in dealing with the HIV-AIDS scourge. But this health problem cannot be tackled in isolation. It is intricately connected with poverty, income inequality and other social issues of deprivation.

It is these disparities that provoke us to look beyond the myth of Botswana’s democratic model.

Democracy is not just about elections in every five years. Its cornerstone is social justice, for the majority, and not a privileged few.

Yes, as beneficiaries of Botswana’s education, we may be privileged. That privilege puts us in a position to see what’s in the crystal ball of “The Jewel of Africa”.

It positions us to ask why the majority are on the fringes of this miracle – why the majority of Batswana are invited to a dinner of the African miracle only to be served tea.

Yes, Honourable, Botswana’s investment in education is unquestionable.
But a more expansive view of educational equity is the outcome of that provision. What are the labour market returns of that access?

In simple terms, does access lead to employment or productive self employment? In our context of the celebrated welfare state, the answer is in the negative. The preliminary results of the 2005/2006 Labour force survey reveals that most of the unemployed are the youth, with the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups ranking above all age groups at an unemployment rate of 26.8 percent and 35.2 percent respectively (These are the fellows you quoted us education access statistics). In conclusion, we have reached the fork end of the African Miracle that never was and this challenges to think critically about issues of poverty, income disparities, the concentration of the country’s wealth in the hands of the elites and their cheerleaders. It is a challenge that those in position of power and authority like the honourable MP need to take ÔÇô and stop throwing tantrums about the welfare state that never was. In that way, I rest my case. Enjoy your long weekend!

Polelo is a University of Botswana academic. He writes from Melbourne, Australia

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