Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) Dr Patrick Molutsi has acknowledged that there is poverty and inequality in Botswana.
Molutsi said that about 20 years ago, it was thought that those who wrote about poverty and class inequality were bluffing. He was speaking at the launch of the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU) book, titled
“The Making of an African Working Class: Politics, Law, Cultural Protest in the Manual Workers Union of Botswana”, at the University of Botswana. Emeritus Professor Pnina Werbner of Keele University wrote the book.
The book launch coincided with a debate, where panelists held discussions under the theme, ‘The state of inequality in Botswana’.
“Government has now come around to acknowledging that poverty exists in our society. Roughly 20 percent of our people live in poverty. Poverty and inequality in this country are undeniable,” Molutsi said. He added that for a long time, poverty had been neglected, adding that Werbner’s book would become an important addition to a growing literature of labour movements. The book addresses some of the challenging issues faced by the unions. It also captures the role of Manual Workers union leaders such as Johnson Motshwarakgole, Samuel Molaodi and Simon Kgaoganang.
Another panelist, Tobokani Rari, secretary general of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) said the distribution of resources in Botswana was uneven. “There is a glaring disparity between the haves and have-nots. As the federation, we feel that government is perpetuating inequality. Our view about the book is that it captures the evolution of the working class in Botswana,” he said.
Another speaker, Elsie Alexander, a former University of Botswana (UB) lecturer and gender activist, said labour rights are human rights. “Labour rights are not in isolation to economic development. Labour rights are very important to the economy,” she said. Alexander also said there was a disconnection between issues of labour and economy at government level. She also said labour institutions should be recognised and respected by the public and private sectors, adding that she was however impressed that the unions had kept the inactive civil society alive.
CEO of Joint Minds Consult, Joseph Mwelwa said job creation in Botswana had been elusive for a long time, while Werbner said the majority of Batswana did not share in Botswana’s wealth.
Another panelist, a researcher at Ditshwanelo Centre for Human Rights, Kabelo Mahupela, commented that the law was silent on the rights of migrant domestic workers who were perpetually subjected to higher levels of exploitation.
Professor Patricia Makepe of the Economics Department at UB said labour was the only tool the poor had to sell. Makepe also said the leaders should be held accountable. “It is easier to throw money at problems than solving the problem. Growth is not necessarily a bad thing but it is all determined by how you distribute the resources,” she said.