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Are we a nation of haters?

Choppies store
A narrative is being created that one of the successful local supermarkets, Choppies Enterprises, is not diversifying its predominately Indian workforce, writes MOGAKOLODI MASOSOTE

One traces the origins of bad press against Choppies when it emerged that the then Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) chief, Isaac Kgosi acquired shares at this company. Out of ignorance, the media started a smear campaign that Kgosi got the shares as a freebie and he did not pay for them. Instead of calling Choppies management to understand how Kgosi acquired the shares, an ‘anti-Choppies’ and Kgosi rhetoric was created in the media that painted them as corrupt. That was before Choppies was listed on Botswana Stock Exchange. Farouk Ismail and Ramachandran Ottapathu could have explained how the Choppies Group was conceived and how with the growth of Choppies, many Batswana not only had opportunity to do business with the grocer but to be employed as well. Choppies alone in Botswana has created over 7, 000 jobs.  The two directors did not want to enjoy the success of the Choppies Group alone, but decided to invite other Batswana to be part of this group as an empowerment initiative. Batswana could either become retailers themselves through Choppies franchise scheme or acquire shares in the business. Kgosi was one of those invited to acquire shares in the Group. Prominent figures like former President Festus Mogae among others also acquired either franchises or shares in the Group.  Now that Kgosi does no longer wield power, this has not stopped propaganda against the Group. The next anti-Choppies rhetoric is to create a perception that there is subliminal general policy of discrimination against locals at Choppies. This is to build a case that Choppies is home only to Indian employees. The Choppies 10-year localisation plan is set aside as a non-starter. To jog the reader’s mind, a few years ago, the Group completed its 10-year localisation plan and now it employs one percent expatriates. Before the completion of the localisation plan, it had more than 380 expatriates. Today they are less than 40 foreign employees at this retailer.

The media is silent that majority of these expatriates who lost their jobs at Choppies were employed by Choppies’ rival. It is a great thing that the press sought to know why almost all of the executive management positions at Choppies are in the hands of foreign nationals while there are qualified citizens who can take over the roles. The same questions should also be directed at Choppies’ competitors in the market.  Have Choppies’ competitors localised their executive management workforce? Why is the

interest only on Choppies? The media must take advantage of its ability to influence policy/strategy at other retailers especially South African chain stores in Botswana.  Another perception has been created that Choppies pays terrible wages in the country. This is laughable as issues of low pay and poor working conditions cut across almost all the supermarkets and other industries in the country. It is pity that the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development hardly undertakes labour inspections in almost all workplaces. The issue of welfare of employees is one of the issues that the management of Choppies takes serious.  But it appears that even government authorities have been mesmerised by this anti-Choppies rhetoric.

The other problem is that we hate anything that is home-grown. The Americans for instance celebrate their millionaires and want to emulate them. In Botswana, we are a hateful nation. There seems to be an expectation that people should be born in poverty and die poor. It is a destination we expect of everyone. Could this do with our socialisation as a people where we talk that every business person is guilty of ritual killings? There is an undeniable truth about Batswana; we are neither entrepreneural nor hardworking. We expect everything to be given to us. The government must take blame for this because it created this state of dependency by providing every service for free. Our welfare state has created in us a people incapable of thinking beyond subsistence agriculture.

Lastly, we are inherently a righteous people who behind the smiling mask are an evil lot. We think all foreigners are corrupt and that they owe their success to us. Yet, what we need to learn from these foreigners is the principle of hard work. The Choppies dislike is principally because the owners are perceived to be Indians and the logic is that any thing Indian is a product of corruption.  But here is the reality, it was the directors who took the risk to start the company and to be financially exposed to banks. They did not start the business from any government funding or charity contributions. For this we must admire them. When Botswana became an independent state in 1966, it was the Nigerian, Ghanaian, South African, Indian, Swedish and British professionals who made this country what it is today. We need to get off our high horse and treat foreigners with the respect and consideration they deserve.


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