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State of democracy in Botswana

D 17 juillet 2011     H 04:24     A Botswana National Front     C 0 messages

A brisk survey of recent events shows that popular, peoples’ revolutions have broken out in several regions of the world, notably in places renowned for their savage repressiveness.

These were places and regions in which those with their hands on the levers of powers had blocked off all channels of democratic communication to ensure that they stayed in power and those out stayed out. Freedoms of expression, assembly and association were excised from the normal stock of entitlements available to the populace. In these countries, poverty, pestilence and marginalisation were not just the echoes of Sunday school bible lessons. They stalked the ordinary citizen who had to survive in an environment where goods and services were priced outside the means of the mass market. Privation and destitution engulfed the landless peasant unable to eke out a meaningful and decent existence.

For these countries’ poorly paid public sector and other employees, commanding salaries that lagged far behind the ever rising cost of living, broke through their regimes’ background grid of entrenched division and joined forces with all those on the downside of their societies to demand change ; regime change. The ordinary people of these times and places high and far off, collectively forged an entry point into a politics of dignity ! They fought peaceful but epic battles for the restoration of their rights ; of their humanity and of their countries. We, in the Botswana National Front genuinely salute the heroic efforts of the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and many others. We are inspired by the courage and dedication of these ordinary people.

In our own country, the freezing of public sector workers’ salaries for a period upwards of three years has had an effect analogous to an undeclared tax burden on our people and our economy. This freeze condemned our workers and their families to the penumbral region midway between destitution and crushing debt. These employees, through their Trade Union, BOFEPUSU, invoked the recently promulgated labour relations dispensation and called on the Government to mitigate the lingering devastation of this prolonged salary freeze by awarding a modest 16% salary adjustment. They hoped and expected to enter into meaningful negotiations with their employer. They acted in the utmost good faith expecting the Government to engage with them in the same spirit of utmost good faith.

It is apposite at this point to pause and reflect briefly on the role and functions of a trade union. Trade Unions have a variety of functions some of which tend to assume more prominence than others in the course of history. Trade Unions themselves are in a process of constant change and evolution, shaped by the concrete material conditions in which they operate. They are influenced by the prevailing political conditions as well as economic orthodoxies.

Trade Union perceptions about themselves and their role is, thus, moulded. Trade Unions can and are indeed entitled, in the course of pursuing their interests, to strike alliances, however temporary and transient, with other groups and organisations in society. These groups may come in the shape of the Labour Committee of the Botswana Democratic Party, or the individual or combined leadership of the political opposition in this country. We in the Botswana National Front make no apologies for having provided solidarity and support to the genuine demands of the public sector employees. We assure them of our abiding loyalty and commitment.

To enumerate but just a few of the functions of the trade union, we note that trade unions have a service function, by which we mean that they must provide services and benefits to their members. This function must be understood at two levels. The first is the provision of social services like insulation against the vicious “no work no pay” retaliatory stance of an employer. This aspect of the function is often modernised to include short term loans and other forms of hospitality programmes for members. At the second level the service function entails professional service, notably legal advice and representation in relation to problems at work. This forms part of the trade union’s workplace representation function.

All interest groups must function in an environment that respects and upholds the fundamental rights of free expression, assembly and association. Scholars of the eminence and erudition of John Stuart Mill have counselled us that a society that forces its members to embrace custom and convention is likely to fall into a stultifying conformity, depriving itself of the energy and vitality that prompt social improvement. It is through the unfettered enjoyment of the freedom of expression, assembly and association that our society may be strengthened and improved. The words of His Lordship Justice Gubbay, Chief Justice of the Zimbabwean Supreme Court in the case of In re Munhumeso and Others, resonates in my ears when he states,

“Freedom of expression, one of the most precious of all guaranteed freedoms, has four broad special purposes to serve : (1) it helps an individual to obtain self fulfilment ; (2) it assists in the discovery of truth ; (3) it strengthens the capacity of an individual to participate in decision making ; and (4) it provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.”

Justice Gubbay then proceeded to declare provisions in pari material with our Section 4 of the Public Order Act, unconstitutional to the degree that they imposed strictures on the enjoyment of the freedom of expression, assembly and association, not consistent with a democratic political dispensation.

The provisions struck down included requirements for prior authorisation when people desired to assemble, either at GSS Grounds or elsewhere, to express their views.

We embrace the progressive jurisprudence of Justice Gubbay in this regard and will be urging it upon our own courts when we approach them fairly soon to reclaim our collective rights and fundamental freedoms.

The strike by the public sector employees has demonstrated that we are ruled by a President hell bent on engendering an unnatural climate of fear, distrust and conformity. He seems to have given blanket powers of repression to his security apparatus. He has asserted himself at the centre of our polity as the supreme ruler on whose word and taste everything is modelled. He has turned his own political party into a benighted organisation, suffocated by a fog of orthodoxy and political repression imposed by his ruthless dictatorship. He seeks to suck our country into this political catastrophe. We, in the Botswana National Front would like to warn and caution him now, as we have done before : We will not let you destroy this country. We advise you here and now, as we have consistently done heretofore, your time is up.

Your abridgement of our civil liberties and invasion of our domestic privacies has earned such resentment and loathing that if you do not stop, you are placing yourself in great personal danger ! By neglecting the immediate and present welfare of our public sector workers and our people generally, you are seriously compromising the future of this country.

We have reached, as a country and as a people, a moment of profound re-evaluation and re-birth. The integrity of our institutions, the judiciary included, are on a free fall. The Presidency has become personalised and the entire society is being savagely remoulded in the image and likeness of this alien President who not only does not speak the language of his people properly, but does not want to meet and engage meaningfully with them.

I would like to pause here for questions, by declaring that I have also come to the same conclusion reached before me by serious economists like Paul Baran, of Stanford University, Martin Bronfenbrenner of the University of Wisconsin, and Edward Mason of Harvard University,

“Economic change can only be accomplished by social revolution”

Gideon Duma Boko, President of the Botswana National Front, 17 June 2011