Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Public service strike exposes chinks in Botswana’s armour

Almost 100 000 public servants have been on strike in Botswana since Monday last week, in an unprecedented display of popular militancy in the country.

The nationwide strike, over demands for a 16% salary increase, has potential political implications for a state ruled by the Botswana Democratic Party since independence.

Thousands of striking workers have gathered daily at the Gaborone Secondary School (GSS) grounds, chanting anti-government slogans.

Some union members say the strike is clearly influenced by events in North Africa, adding that the GSS grounds have been nicknamed “the Tahrir Square of Botswana”, recalling the scene of protests in central Cairo. Workers in major towns and villages have also been demonstrating.

The strike is said to have paralysed government operations such as health and education. Trade unions claim that about 80% of the civil service has joined in.

The state is Botswana’s largest employer.

Unionists said the government has redeployed members of the Botswana Defence Force, the Botswana Police and volunteers to keep services running. The Botswana Red Cross Society has also been roped in to assist in clinics and hospitals.

This week the government of President Ian Khama dismissed reports of a “crisis”. The government spokesperson and deputy permanent secretary in Khama’s office, Jeff Ramsay, told the Mail & Guardian that the situation is under control.

“While the strike has certainly not paralysed the government service as a whole, it has had a negative impact in some areas. No hospitals or schools have been closed, but some have been affected,” Ramsay said.

He said that of a total of 658 health facilities, 13 clinics and three health posts have closed, while 10 others are not fully operational.

The Industrial Court had ordered all essential-service employees, including health workers, to return to work, Ramsay said.

Driving the strike action is the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, comprising five unions, which argues that the government has not increased state-sector pay for three years.

Federation spokesperson Goretetse Kekgonegile said workers were fed up with the government’s “don’t care” attitude, adding that labour had been calling for pay hikes since November.

Ramsay said the government had consistently warned that the economy could not afford a 16% increase, given the budget deficit that was largely caused by the negative impact of the global recession on state revenues.

Some 28% of government expenditure last year, or 11.6-billion pula, was paid in salaries and benefits to civil servants, he said. The state had conditionally offered a 5% increase, following a joint review of the performance of the economy in the first quarter of the financial year.

Kekgonegile hit back: “The government continues to spend millions of pula funding programmes like the president’s football constituency league, constructing multibillion-pula houses for ministers and buying five aircraft for 250-million pula. The government has funds, period.”

Political analyst Thapelo Ndlovu commented that the strike was a wake-up call to a government that had become overly complacent. “It signifies a dramatic change from a society that has been described as docile to a more assertive and bold one.”

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre’s. www.amabhungane.co.za.

Subscribe to the M&G

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.

Ntibinyane Ntibinyane
Ntibinyane Ntibinyane is a journalist from Botswana and co-founder of INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit news outlet that does investigative journalism in the public interest

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

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

Advertising

Subscribers only

Bloated Sassa to make staff cuts

The social security agency has ‘lost’ R2-billion on unnecessary salaries and through wasteful expenditure

SANDF’s ‘dignity’ comes with a R200mn price tag

Find out about the SANDF’s new uniform, which is costing taxpayers close to R200-million, while mission-critical equipment is not maintained

More top stories

Phiyega bid to sidestep Marikana massacre dismissed

Ex-police commissioner Riah Phiyega hoped to quash findings including colluding in a cover-up and misleading the public about what happened at the platinum mine in 2012.

Warring ANC factions united in questioning SAA deal

Four unhappy high-ranking party members say the SAA sale was never discussed at the NEC

Ice skating champion shows off the Cape Flats talent at...

A young ice-skating champion has beaten the odds and brought home a national gold medal

Study finds too much salt can damage immune cell function

The study investigated how sodium intake affects human cells by giving participants 6g of salt in tablet form each day for 14 days, while they continued with their normal diets.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×