Contact Person: Chris Matlhako
Tel: +27 11 3393621/2
Fax: +27 11 3394244
PO Box 1027
No 1 Leyds Street
Social and economic situation
With a size equal to that of France and 9 times the size of Lesotho, Botswana has a population of 1.8 million people. From being one of the poorest countries at the time of independence in 1966, it has developed to be a so called middle income country with a per capita income of over US$5, 000. It has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 9 % in the past 30 years.
This growth rate was almost wholly driven by the mineral sector. Copper, nickel, coal, soda ash and diamonds are mined at various enclaves in Botswana. Diamond is mined by Debswana, a company which the Botswana state owns in partnership with the South African mining company, DE BEERS. The arrangement with DE BEERS is such that the Botswana State gets a lion's share (about 75%) of the revenue accruing from diamond sales (dividends, taxes and royalties). The revenue accruing from minerals has enabled the neo-colonial state to develop social infrastructure- schools, clinics, roads across the country. The relative stability and peace which Botswana enjoyed at the time when most of Southern Africa was engulfed in conflict ( as a result of Southern African racist and colonial regimes internal repression and external aggression) also earned it a lot of sympathy which translated into generous socio-economic assistance especially from the Scandanavian countries.
This also contributed to the building of an extensive social infrastructure. However the other side of the coin is that for almost 30 years the Botswana state was wedded to the idea peddled by BE BEERS that Botswana was unsuited for any type of processing of diamonds, that all it could do was to sell diamonds in a raw form to DE BEERS owned Diamond Trading Company in London. It was only two (2) years ago, after consistent pressure from us, that Botswana finally insisted on the transference of some DTC processes such as sorting and limited sales to local companies in Botswana. In this way Botswana was playing a typical neo-colonial role of supplying unprocessed raw materials to the world market.
In the process the country lost enormous amounts of potential income as well as opportunity for mineral based industrialisation and employment creation. The impressive growth rates also conceal a number of very serious structural weaknesses of the Botswana economy- over dependence on minerals, unemployment, high levels of poverty and huge socio-economic inequalities.
The neo-colonial state has tended to concentrate on developing the livestock industry,
(not surprising, considering the character of Botswana ruling block as a coalition of an emergent comprador bourgeois elements and indigenous agrarian capitalist interests largely based on cattle ownership) to the total neglect of arable agriculture. The result has been an almost total collapse of the arable agricultural sector which has fuelled a constant flow of migrants from the rural areas to the urban centres in search for employment and better living standards.
This has put a strain on urban infrastructure worsening unemployment and the housing shortage. The official unemployment figure stands at 20% which is an underestimation considering that it excludes the so called discouraged job-seekers. Botswana is also one of the most unequal societies in the world. Although Batswana are supposed to be a nation of farmers, 50% of the people do not own even a single cow while 5% of the big cattle farmers own 50% of the country's cattle head. The top 10% of the wealthiest people control 60% Botswana's wealth while 30 % of the people wallow in abject poverty.
The situation is made considerably worse by Botswana's implementation of neo-liberal reforms by way of introduction of the user fees for provision of such vital services as education and health and the implementation of privatisation. A number of parastatals in vital sectors such as energy, water, and telecommunications have already retrenched workers in a restructuring exercise carried out in preparation for privatisation. The Botswana situation differs form that of other African countries in that Botswana is not facing any economic crisis and most of its parastatals are highly profitable.
It is therefore not under pressure from the world Bank or the International Monetary Fund. It has also re-introduced school fees in secondary schools and increased fees for different basic services in what the government refers to as cost recovery measures. Though cabinet ministers have been quick to point out that no child would be denied access to education on account of genuine inability to pay school fees, some students, particularly from poor families have been sent home and have not returned to school. Our Party- the Botswana National Front has waged an energetic campaign against Privatisation and re-introduction of school fees. These cost recovery measures have hit the poor most. Since 2006, we have organised a number of demonstrations against school fees.
The Political situation
The transition to independence in 1966 ushered in control of state power by an emergent petty-bourgeoisie which has over time used this state power as a lever for accumulation and transforming itself into a fully-fledged bourgeois ruling class. This ruling class however enjoys a symbiotic relationship with Imperialism as manifested for instance in a whole array of policies from industrialisation policy, privatisation to monetary policy. Throughout the post-colonial period Botswana has adhered to classic liberal bourgeois multi-party politics and periodic holding of elections. The right-wing Botswana Democratic Party gas won successive elections since 1965. In this process it has enjoyed the advantage of incumbency and close connection with big business to access considerable resources to finance its campaigns. There is currently no political party funding in Botswana.
Our party, which is the main opposition in the country, relying on the support of the working class and the urban and rural poor has not been able to mobilise sufficient resources to match the ruling party.
However Botswana's formal adherence to liberal democratic masks its sometimes illiberal and democratic tendencies. This has been particularly manifest in its attitude towards working class struggles, wherein trade unions are regarded with suspicion by the state and every strike almost invariably leads to confrontation with the state. But the most serious weakness of Botswana's democracy is the unresolved National Question. The cultural hegemony of the Tswana manifested by the almost universal use of setswana language masks the ethnic heterogeneity of Botswana society and the cultural oppression of the national minorities. The failure to resolve the national question in a consistently democratic manner manifests itself in three related but distinct ways;
-the uneven regional development with more accelerated socio-economic development tending to be concentrated in areas of the country largely inhabited by historically dominant ethnic communities while those inhabited by historically marginalised communities are underdeveloped.
-secondly the ethnic minorities have been systematically denied the right to have their languages taught in public schools or spoken in the official media like radio stations and television.
-thirdly, one ethnic group, Basarwa has suffered extreme forms of oppression, marginalisation and discrimination, occupying the lowest rung of the social ladder. The oppression and marginalisation of Basarwa is historically rooted in the pre-colonial era when they were fought defeated and enslaved by the tswana groups. The imposition of colonial rule did not bring any improvement to the situation of Basarwa. The post-colonial state has perpetuated this oppression and marginalisation manifested for instance by eviction of Basarwa from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve over 10 years ago. Even after the High Court had declared the eviction illegal and the Basarwa be allowed to occupy their homes within the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, the Botswana government has adamantly refused to provide water and other amenities within the reserve, thus effectively denying them the right to settle within the reserve.
Our party has consistently campaigned for the granting of full democratic rights to national minorities and the implementation of affirmative programmes to integrate the Basarwa into the mainstream of national socio-economic development.
More recently the state has adopted more measures aimed strengthening its repressive hand. At the end of 2006, parliament passed an Intelligence act which lay a legal basis for strengthening the intelligence services. There also are moves to register all cell phones in use in the country to make it easy to trace the identity of all mobile phone users. We are concerned that this move is meant to facilitate more efficient surveillance of almost everyone whom the state views as a potential security threat including the trade unions and political activists. These are not acts of a consistently democratic regime. It is happening at a time when we have just had a president, a former military man, imposed on the nation through a system of automatic succession which is totally undemocratic as it does not allow the nation the opportunity to elect their next leader when the incumbent leaves office.
By Cde Otsweletse Moupo
Leader, Botswana National Front
P.O. BOX 40065