Over the years Botswana’s democracy has transformed in profound ways and at the same time the struggle for the worker’s liberation has intensified. The cry for industrial democracy has been loud and the voices of the workers continue to penetrate the horizon in advocacy for a better tomorrow in the working environment. The global advancement of the capitalist ideals also threatens to suffocate the labour movement and the general working class but we gain confidence in the principle that the working class will never succumb to authoritarianism and exploitation. As BTU, we are aware that we are caught up in a brutal war of class struggle but our duty and vow to defend the worker’s rights and industrial democracy in Botswana cannot be avoided. Our conviction is that our democracy and our country’s development is what it is today because of the tireless efforts of the poor working class who continue to render their services to the nation despite the unfavourable working conditions. Therefore, as we fix our eyes on the Labour Day this year, we would like to continue making the pledge that the worker’s rights are our democratic obligation as a union which we will continue fighting for without fear until we see social justice, equality and worker’s freedoms being respected. We do this in the spirit of solidarity and nation building so that Botswana can move forward economically and politically.
In the previous publications I have emphasized the fact that there is need to understand that unions are not enemies of democracy. Rather they are a voice which provides checks and balances in the democratic process so that those in power can revisit their obligations and cross-examine their performance in as far as the worker’s rights are concerned. Unfortunately, it is still clear even today that there is a difficulty in understanding the role that we as unions are supposed to play in the democratic Botswana and such lack of understanding is the one that has led to voluminous court cases and perpetual conflicts between the employer and the employed. As a trade union, we declare even today that our struggle for the workers will not diminish because we believe we have a duty in strengthening Botswana’s democracy by calling for just and fair labour practices and the general welfare of the masses.
Obviously as BTU we are equally worried about the declining standards of education in our country and we therefore vividly make a call to those in power that we should join forces and resolve this calamity as soon as possible before we can further jeopardise the lives of our children and generations to come. BTU continues to be tormented by the unresolved problem of huge student-teacher ratios which basically makes it impossible for teachers to reach out to every child. We believe as BTU that the government has enormous power to bring this issue to a close because history continues to register that big class sizes are not giving us the quality education we so much want. For how long are we going to be at loggerheads on these issues without getting the results yet the children persistently remain victims?
As a democracy, we ought to go on a journey of self-introspection especially regarding the modern teacher in Botswana vis-├á-vis the neo-liberalism globalization. In a sense, one question we should reflect on is the relevance of our teachers in a supposedly changing global work environment. Are our educators still relevant given that there is so much happening around the world regarding the global knowledge economy? Are we training them enough and subjecting them to empowering in-service training which can make them cope with the dictates of the changing knowledge as well as the advancements of Information Communication Technologies (ICT)? How about the rural versus urban teacher disparity in terms of information and resources? The reality on the ground is that the teachers at times are blamed for non-performance not because they are genuinely non-performers but because they are denied training opportunities which would enable them to up their skills so that they better fit in the modern day classroom which is influenced by so many global forces. Have we ever asked why some teachers in rural areas continuously produce bad results while those in urban areas are persistently receiving the crown for better results? In all honesty, is it true that those teachers in rural areas just don’t care and that those in urban areas are more than caring and super intelligent? Something is definitely horribly wrong here and the sooner we find a remedy, the better. Our teachers need empowerment in skills, resources and remunerations.
Unions in a democracy will never cease advocating for better welfare and sound conditions of service. We are stuck with the issues of levels of operation to date which by now could have been resolved. Why is it that we appear to be spending so much of the resources on attempting to find solutions to problems and yet once the recommendations are made we tend to fail dismally to implement them? Such failure to implement change becomes an obstacle and an enemy of progress. Its high time that the levels of operation within our workplace are resolved so that we can move forward with other things which matter. We as a union know that we have a duty to make the quality of our education better but we are not going to manage without the necessary support and understanding by those in positions of power.
Finally, let me register that the confrontational struggles between the trade union movement in Botswana will never breed any positive results. It is essential that the workers embark on a democratic coalition of the working class so that they could advance their concerns in one voice. Without unity, the trade union movement will lose so many battles even those that appear as givens which could have been won if people had decided to bring their heads together in one voice. Fragmentation within the worker’s voice will weaken the movement and consequently falter and fail to conquer the state bureaucrats. Our struggle against exploitation and victimization calls for unity in solidarity so that we can remain rigorously relevant under collective bargaining in our diverse advancements for the worker’s liberation and freedom. There is power within the organized trade union movement and as we celebrate this Labour Day, we should remember that we can only manage to move Botswana forward through meaningful participatory democratic engagements in one voice. That is what our democratic obligation entails and BTU remains committed to victory for the poor working class. Halala ba bereki halala!! Long live BTU Long Live!!
*Ibo Nana Kenosi is the Secretary General of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU)