When the close to 90,000 public service workers downed their tools in protest more than three weeks ago, the government relied on the skeletal staff that had remained on duty. Many of these decided not to go on strike for various reasons - many due to financial reasons were loathe to lose money because of the No Work, No Pay policy. Indeed there were those who out of their own principles did not want to go on strike. Now weeks later, some workers that have not participated in the strike report being negatively impacted. Many are overworked because of the shortage of staff. Productivity due to general dissatisfaction and general malaise has become a major casualty.
Government's insistence that it will not award the 16 percent the unions are demanding has not helped the situation. Already some non-striking workers who spoke to The Monitor have said that they would be joining the strike, as it is pointless to remain aloof when government is not showing any commitment towards their economic well-being.
There is a general listlessness in most public service institutions, and because of their usual bureaucracy a lot of work is not getting done because specific people who perform specific duties are not in their offices. Inevitably, there is also a backlog of work awaiting workers when they return to work.
The work includes payment of purchase orders, supplies requisitions, engagement of personnel, listing and/or delisting of destitute people and orphans, among others. However, a small number of workers who have been on strike have decided to go back to work after the initial 10-days that had been stipulated by the Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU).
The Health System
The impact of the ongoing strike on the health system is undeniable. So far, unconfirmed reports say that a considerable number of patients in different hospitals across the country have died as there was no one to attend to them, prescribe medication, make follow-ups on their treatment and even to give them the prescribed medication. This is beside the fact that hospitals and clinics around the country have been besieged by a chronic shortage of drugs all along.
It is alleged that in one case a doctor refused to go back to the hospital to update a doctor that had been called in to attend to a patient. The patient eventually died, while the hospital was negotiating with the doctor to at least give clarity on the patient's condition. This has happened in many cases and so far about six patients at Princess Marina Hospital are said to have died from conditions that could have been treated.
Last week, the strikers joined the nurses and doctors on a mission to pass a motion of no confidence on the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Dr Kolaatamo Malefo for failing to address their long outstanding issues - issues other than the strike that have always dogged the ministry.
Justice and law Enforcement
The already overstretched Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and other law enforcement offices are feeling the brunt of the on going public service strike. Allegations are rife that already some accused persons brought before courts are using the situation to their advantage.
It is alleged that accused persons are persuading presiding magistrates to release them because prosecutors are never available to prosecute them as they are on strike. With a cases backlog that goes many years back, magistrates may find releasing the accused persons as the only viable option.
For the duration of the strike so far, corridors in court complexes in the capital remained partly deserted as some government lawyers, court reporters and interpreters remain on strike. A handful of government lawyers are still visible at Gaborone Senior Secondary School (GSSS) grounds where other public servants gather in solidarity with the strikers.
In cases where, there are some interpreters and prosecutors in the courtroom,
suspects would be brought in a single courtroom where their cases would be deferred to a later date, in the hope that the striking civil servants would be back at work on that date. There are also reports that police officers and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) officers are planning a go-slow, as they too are unhappy about their remuneration and other conditions of service.
At prisons, allegations are rife that prisoners have no toiletry as the strike continues. It is alleged that supplies officers responsible for purchasing toiletry and other necessities for prisoners are on strike.
Despite the pretence from the Ministry of Education and Skills Development that teaching has been going on in schools around the country during the strike, the reaction of students in various schools contradicts the official statements.
It is common knowledge that teachers have been on a go-slow following their impasse with DPSM over their undefined working hours, which results in extra curricular activities being scrapped away slowly but surely. It is also no secret that teachers always take their boycotts seriously and it was expected that schools would be the hardest hit in the ongoing national strike. The commotion started by Lobatse Senior Secondary School students was like pressing a timebomb that had been ticking in schools around the country. The Kgari Sechele students followed suit the next day, with yet more reports of stampedes trickling in from different senior schools.
The Form Four students, who have missed the first term of their studies in the senior schools are now halfway through another term without even putting pen to the first page of their notebooks. The Form Fives and Form Threes, who are writing their final external examinations this year, are anxious about what is going to happen to them at the end of the year because with only a few months left the projects of the course work marks have not started.
The skeletal staff at the schools could definitely not be able to teach all the classes. They were only going to manage to monitor the movements in schools and maintain order. However, there was the issue of providing food when the cooks were on strike. Most schools started releasing students at 2.30 pm as they could not provide food for them.
Instead of being kept in schools studying there is now more idling in shopping complexes, leaving parents wondering about the mischief their children might be getting involved into. In Sojwe, while in the absence of the boarding master one student, who has been reported to have bullied another for som time, finally managed to cross the line and stab him to death. A student at GoodHope Senior Secondary School also stabbed another on the arm, while unconfirmed reports state that one girl was raped at one of the junior secondary schools in Gaborone.
One can only imagine what might be happening in other schools especially in rural areas where students easily drop out of school for flimsy reasons. Will they be patient enough to stay in school while their teachers are on strike?
Even though on strike, parents of the Gaborone Senior Secondary School ambushed the school leadership demanding to be given a report of what was going on in the school. The headmaster turned them away telling them to follow procedure of going through the school's Parent-Teachers Association (PTA).
"We are the PTA even though we have an executive committee. It is not about whether we are participating in the strike or not, the fact of the matter is that we have children who are studying in this school," one of the parents said.
While the Education Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi said the students were being incited to protest for not being educated, the students have put it to her that it was only their future they were worried about following last year's examinations' chaos.