Vol.23 No.64

Tuesday 2 May 2006    

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News
Workers' what? Haven't heard of that

Tshireletso motlogelwa
Staff Writer

5/2/2006 3:55:43 PM (GMT +2)

"Workers and farmers unite/You have nothing to lose /But your chains/The world is to win/This is May Day! May!!" and so eloquently urged American poet Louis Zukofsky to the workers.


However, a quick survey around Gaborone revealed that many people are not aware of the significance of the day. Kgomotso Mosime, a hawker at the bus station indicated that she had no idea what May Day meant, except that it is a holiday. On this day, the mother of three woke up like any other day and went to the station to sell her wares; sweets, biscuits, newspapers and phone credit cards. "What do you mean this is workers' day? Whose workers are you talking about?" Kgomotso asked agitated. She said these days of marches and demonstrations only made sense to those people who are employed and have all the pegs to enjoy even as they 'prance' around with placards and loudspeakers. "I sell these things to feed my children," she explained pointing at her wares. She has seen unity among hawkers fail. "I don't believe in that unity thing. Everyone is out to make a killing," she says. However, for the informal sector, lack of organisation remains a real problem. Some hawkers say there is a clear programme to sideline them by the mainstream of political and business practice around the city. They cite examples where public spaces are being privatised without their input. Another hawker, Sekgopi Sekopani concurred that they were seen as a distraction when the spaces they occupy become too lucrative. "I used to sell at the old station market. And then the City Council said they wanted to improve the conditions in the market. We were asked to leave. When the market was finished, we found that some other people have been assigned our areas," he laments. He was shocked to find that the market had been privatised and was now under the control of an individual businessman. "Politicians and the City Council left us in the lurch," he said resignedly. The new policy of government of public-private partnership means that when the public space like the market are put under private management, they have no one to talk to. "The City Council says, 'well that space is now privately run'. When you talk to the new owner, he says, 'you don't have any legitimacy to even talk to me. I don't owe you any explanation", explains Sekopani. Sekopani says to him, this Day does not hold much adding: "I am a very politically-minded person. If I continue talking I might upset some powerful people". Todd Jones, a 28-year-old United Kingdom citizen feels that Botswana workers may be satisfied with the way things are going since he never hears about demonstrating or downing tools. You see how quiet it is right now. You would think that on this day the streets would be crowded with workers celebrating the day. But it looks like it is just another holiday," he says. His friend however says that it may be because the workers have been made to feel weak and are unable to unite. "Sometimes workers feel powerless at an individual level especially if they feel that they may get into trouble if they were to engage in things like trade unions," he says. In significant shops around town, it was business as usual. Employees were hard at work. The streets were generally empty as people were either unwinding from a hectic holiday while others were possibly passing time at cattle-posts and the lands. However while many workers in the informal sector do not recognise let alone celebrate the Day the Manual Workers Union held a rally at the Boipuso Hall to mark the day. Speakers took to the podium to address the thousands gathered. A book written by academics Dr Zibani Maundeni, Dr Christian Makgala and Phuthego Phuthego Molosiwa about the history of the Union was launched. Speakers at the occasion included Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Moeng Pheto who outlined government's dedication to further improve workers' rights. However, speaker after speaker differed with Minister Pheto and openly attacked government to the excitement of the crowd. Legal practitioner Victor Moupo cast doubt on the process of hiring court judges. He said the calibre and orientation of individuals chosen always tends to be conservative and even anti-workers movements. Dr Zibani Maundeni cautioned the union against aligning with any specific political party. Speakers also outlined the onslaught of the global capitalism on the rights of Third World workers. They expressed worry that the rush by government to attract foreign investment will lead to the worsening of workers' conditions. Representatives from the workers' movements from the sub-continent also addressed the gathering, taking turns to castigate international organisations such as The International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. Goodman Kenneth, a worker, from Kasane said as a manual worker, he was impressed and motivated by the gathering. "We got a chance to see our leaders and talk to them," he said. Another worker, Fatty Simon from Bobonong concurred with Kenneth. However, he expressed doubt whether the condition of the worker will ever really improve any time soon. "Our pay is so low that when you retire, you know you are going back to pauperism because you cannot save any of your current pay. In the private sector, workers get sacked willy nilly. We have a lot to do," he said. Send us your comments about Mmegi newspaper Search For Old Newspaper Editions To advertise contact us through email

 
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