The events unfolding in neighboring country, Zimbabwe, are commanding attention but it appears not to be an urgent one from Botswana. In fact, as a matter of comparison, such a lax response would not have passed had it been South Africa. The reason is simple: the closeness and sensitivity of the Botswana economy to South African events is clear but it is not so obvious when it comes to Zimbabwe. There is a valid reason however for Botswana to pay a keen mind to Zimbabwe and it is made apparent by the streets of Phase Two, a residential area at the heart of the growing capital city, Gaborone.
There is one particular thing that makes Phase Two distinctive and it is that it is interfaced with the commercial and business centre of Gaborone, but there is also another characteristic that goes unnoticed as you move through its streets, it is the hands held up with the palm facing up continually gesturing a wave.
This hand signal depicts a non-verbal communication that conveys a certain message, which is ‘I’m willing and available for whatever kind of works that you can offer me.’ It is commonly expressed by men and women alike who hail from Zimbabwe, many of whom have fled from their homes to seek a ‘better’ life in Botswana. With scarce job opportunities available in the country, even for Batswana, this neighborhood’s streets have become these Zimbabwean men and women’s offices.
Since Wednesday last week the army had taken control of Zimbabwe in a move the army spokesperson Major General Sibusiso moyo announced on national television at 4am as ‘only targeting criminals around Mugabe who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.’ Kuda Chideme, a Zimbabwean Journalist wrote that the dominant view of the ‘coup’ is that the army intends to force Mugabe to resign and put in place a transitional government which will pave way for fresh elections. Also part of the story reads, ‘Today, the country has no currency of its own after it was rendered worthless by record setting hyper-inflation. More than 90 percent of the population is unemployed and the majority of Zimbabweans lives on less than a dollar a day.’ The outpour of Zimbabweans from their country into Botswana is in part explained by the country’s current worsening living conditions, which as a result have forced many to escape them.
By the end of December last year the majority of work permit holders in Botswana were from Zimbabwe at 2,463 persons followed by South Africa at 862 persons and Indian Sub-Continent with 502 persons, according to Statistics Botswana (SB). Put differently, 46.5 percent of Zimbabweans, almost half of the total work permit holders in the country, were employed in the country. South Africa followed at 16.3 percent and then Indian Sub-Continent at 9.5 percent. The Chinese follow the Indian Sub-Continent at 7.3 percent. Equally worth noting is that figures show that Agriculture had the largest work permit holders at 29.2 percent, followed by Construction with 15.2 percent. Manufacturing was third with 9 percent work permit holders. These industries are deemed labor intensive which means that they need a significant amount of labor to produce their goods and services.
The figures presented by Statistics Botswana point out a reality that if left unchecked could cause a social unrest, one similar to the one that erupted in South Africa where the country’s citizens displayed their fear and distrust of foreigners with violent attacks. The root of such heinous acts was the conviction that foreigners had taken from South Africans opportunities for work and economic empowerment. Botswana is presently plagued with gaping unemployment, which makes finding a job a cut throat affair. With Zimbabweans fleeing their repressive conditions and seeking survival in Botswana, it has the potential to ignite the same social turbulence, which can be avoided.