Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Chinese business upsets Batswana

Despite a booming construction industry in Botswana, which accounts for 7% of GDP, President Ian Khama’s government faces a ­backlash from local business people over his government’s perceived bias in favour of Chinese construction firms.

A total of 24 Chinese businesses have been awarded lucrative government contracts for major infrastructural projects — they are building highways, hospitals and stadiums and refurbishing the airports in Gaborone and Francistown.

But the government has defended its choice of contractors, intimating that Chinese companies’ tenders were lower than those of their local counterparts.

According to Johnnie Swartz, Botswana’s former minister of infrastructure, science and technology, the government has paid Chinese firms more than 20-billion pula. But the costs are likely to be higher, as several Chinese companies have missed deadlines for the completion of projects.

Most notably, the deadline for the completion of the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, in time for the World Cup last year, was missed, putting a dent in Khama’s crusade for efficient delivery of services to Batswana.

Christopher Gofhamodimo, the chairperson of a consortium of contractors, Tshipidi Badiri Builders’ Association, has complained that the contracts awarded to the Chinese were not structured to ensure the meaningful participation of locals.

Strengthening ties
“These billions are fully enjoyed by the Chinese and the profits are siphoned out of the country, leaving locals with nothing at all,” Gofhamodimo said. The Chinese embassy in Botswana has identified the construction industry as “a key cooperative area where China brings in technology and creates new jobs for locals” and strengthens trade ties between the two countries, which stood at more than $200-million last year.

The Financial Times reported that in the past two years China has become the biggest lender to developing countries, overtaking the World Bank.
There have also been allegations of corruption by Botswana officials awarding the contracts.

Gofhamodimo said: “Government officials influence the awarding of contracts — they benefit hugely and that’s why they openly support the Chinese and discredit locals.”

Vice-President Mompati Merafhe, who has multiple business interests, is seen as a particularly strong supporter of Chinese business. But political observers expect that Khama will drop him in a Cabinet reshuffle expected early next month.

Workers and trade unions have also complained about the wages and working conditions in Chinese concerns. Botsalo Galetsang (26), a worker at a Chinese-supervised construction site on the Francistown highway, described relations with the Chinese as “very hard and made almost impossible by the language barrier”.

“Our government has not openly come out on how it intends to address the challenges faced by workers and I think it’s because it doesn’t want to chase away the business from China,” Galetsang said.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Ray Ndlovu
Ray Ndlovu has been a correspondent for the Mail & Guardian in Zimbabwe since 2009. His areas of interest include politics and business. With a BSc honours degree in journalism and media studies, Ray aspires to become a media mogul.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa breaking more temperature records than expected

The country’s climate is becoming ‘more extreme’ as temperature records are broken

More top stories

US fashion contaminates Africa’s water

Untreated effluent from textile factories in in Lesotho, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar pours into rivers, contaminating the water

Deep seabed mining a threat to Africa’s coral reefs

The deep oceans are a fragile final frontier, largely unknown and untouched but mining companies and governments — other than those in Africa — are eying its mineral riches

Komodo dragon faces extinction

The world’s largest monitor lizard has moved up the red list for threatened species, with fewer than 4 000 of the species left

DA says ANC’s implosion has thrown local government elections wide...

The DA launched its 37-page manifesto on a virtual platform under the banner “The DA gets things done”.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…