The Mercury

Tempers flare as Botswana’s strike talks stall

- Ziggy Mogopodi Independen­t Foreign Service

GABORONE: Botswana sank further into crisis this week when the government refused a compromise offered by public sector unions to end the sixweek strike that has hobbled the country’s economy.

The unions accepted the government’s offer of a 3 percent pay hike on condition that the government reinstated the approximat­ely 1 900 essential services employees dismissed last month.

They also demanded that the government pay workers for the time spent striking.

And they insisted that the average 3 percent increase should be distribute­d to give greater benefit to lower-paid public servants.

As tempers hardened, President Ian Khama unleashed his cabinet ministers to address meetings in the major villages of Ramotswa, Kanye, Mochudi, Tlokweng and Molepolole, to try to repair the damage caused by the strike. However, the ministers were mostly greeted with hostility by their hosts.

Mokgweetsi Masisi, the Minister of Presidenti­al Affairs and Public Administra­tion, had to flee before an angry crowd that he tried to address in the Gaborone West Community Hall on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance and Developmen­t Planning, Kenneth Matambo, appeared briefly before a magistrate on charges of corruption on which he has not made a plea. He is alleged to have failed to disclose his interests in a company that was engaged in dealings with a government investment promotion company, when he was heading it in 2005. He will appear again after 14 days.

The strike has affected services, and led to the closure of public schools two weeks ago. They were reopened this week after parents pressured the two parties. However, on Wednesday students rioted in Mochudi, vowing to reject temporary teachers whom the government had deployed to schools.

There is fear that Khama might soon order the security organs to use force to disperse the striking public servants.

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