Vice President, Mompati Merafhe, was in his element in Mahalapye on Wednesday when addressing residents on the thorny issue of the strike.
A combative Merafhe took the fight to the striking workers as he read them the riot act and announced that his government will not pander to the demands of the workers. He threatened that after the strike, the civil service might be reduced. "We will not pay people that are not at work. It was not a threat when we said that we have fired those that we have fired. No, it was not a threat," this was Merafhe's message and given the affirmation that he got from the crowd, the Vice President was speaking to the converted.
Many of the people in attendance seemed to be reading from his script and almost everything he said was greeted with 'Amen' from the crowd. When the Vice President stood to address the residents, some of the striking workers who came to the meeting walked out on him. It was a departure by about 10 percent of the people who came to the meeting and a great majority stayed. Those who remained to listen to the former military chief were mainly the elderly and a few youth. With such an audience, Merafhe had a field day presenting his case. Like a trained marksman, he went for the workers' jugular. Like a wounded politician seeking relief, he appealed to the emotions of those in attendance. Like a debater, he relied on Setswana idioms and proverbs to pulverise his opponents, many of whom had boycotted the meeting.
"Kana ha re ba raya re re ga gona madi bare re senya madi ka go duela batho ba ba setseng ba lebile lebitla.
(When we tell them that we do not have the funds to pay for the salary increase, they tell us that we waste money by paying old people)," Merafhe said. There was of course a murmur of disapproval from the elderly. At this time, the Vice President had succeeded in turning the audience against the workers.
"Ke gore ke ipotsa gore a batho ba ga bana Batsadi? A batho ba ga ba itse batlhoki ba ba kana kana? (I am wondering whether these people do not have parents. Are these people aware of the poverty in this country)," he continued.
Merafhe had a simple way of defusing the 'no work no pay' waiver the unions want from government. "Kana gatwe re duele batho ba ntse ko ditlhareng. Go raya le lona jaaka le ntse le sa bereke re tsamaye re le duela. (They want us to pay people that are not at work and if we can do that, we might as well pay you too for just staying at home)," he asserted to derisory laughter from the crowd. One resident even remarked that if government is to go that route, it will be stealing from the public.
There was mirth too at the Kgotla meeting. Merafhe detailed how some of the striking workers are so desperate that they are grovelling to be reinstated. "One of them, a doctor, begged to be reinstated and when we asked him why he got himself into this mess, he told us that he has been misled.
To our surprise, he has been misled by drivers. How can a whole doctor be misled by a driver unless of course he is a traditional doctor," he said to the amusement of the crowd which was by now eating out of the palm of his hand. Although he seemed to be relishing the moment, he could not hide the fact that he has been peeved by the broadsides directed at him.
"Batho ga re a tswala. Lo seka la bona re apere disutu jaana bana ba ba re tsotse ditswalo," he said. Later on, Assistant Minister Botlogile Tshireletso picked the mantle. "Some of these politicians who insult our leaders are doing so because they have not had a good upbringing.
We know that one of them grew up in a dysfunctional home. His father always beat up his mother. So we are not shocked that he in turn can insult our leaders this way. Very soon, we will go into their closets," she said and threatened to go toe-to-toe with those who abuse ruling party leaders. Following the trend established by Merafhe, Tshireletso said the strike has degenerated into a political cat-call for regime change. Like a bee stunned, she said they will fight to the bitter end. "Gatwe re malatswa thipa. A go molato ga re latswa thipa ya ga Khama, akere ke moeteledipele wa rona." Tshireletso said he was shocked that cleaners, drivers and night watchmen are part of the strike.
"Nurses and doctors say they can sell their skills elsewhere and they may be right, but where would the cleaners and drivers go?" she wondered. She said to the amusement of some that these cadres are expendable. "We can just replace them here," she said. During questions and comments time, the crowd seemed to be in no position to contradict their leaders. Those who went against the grain, and there were two, were shouted down. Someone who tried to preach reconciliation was cut short and with Merafhe responding that government has made its position and it is not about to shift.
"Re batla ditiro tseo (we want those jobs)," another person shouted from the crowd. There was a chilling statement from the Vice President that the strike has made government to seriously evaluate the public service. "During this strike, we have observed that some departments were running so well even though people were on strike and this clearly shows that there are other people that are employed in the public service while they are not needed. We can do without some of these jobs and we might just do that. Even the Mahalapye striking workers might be without a venue very soon. Council secretary, who gave the striking workers the use of the Community Hall?" he asked.
Merafhe said the Community Hall belongs to the people and they need to use it too.