Saturday, 28 May 2011


Johannesburg 27 May 2011. A coalition of South African based civil society groups have called on Botswana security forces and striking civil servants to exercise restraint, or risk fuelling a severe humanitarian crises. Botswana authorities should instead heed the call from the Botswana Centre for Human Rights asking President Khama to negotiate a peaceful end to union led protests, which have brought public services to a standstill for the past six weeks. The group also calls for the immediate release of all children detained by Botswana state police.
Media reports have documented that over 100,000 public servants, including around 1,500 considered essential workers, have been on strike since 18 April, calling for a 16 per cent wage increase. Botswana civil society groups told South African partners that the protests were increasingly becoming violent as security forces sought to silence the group by "what ever means possible". Several student protestors in Ramotswa, Molepolole and Mochudi, have been arrested following protest action in response to the absence of teachers.
"Against the backdrop of widespread civic action on the African continent, the situation in Botswana is at risk of flaring beyond the current boycott into a severe crisis," said Watson Hamunakwadi of GCAP-SA.
"The government of Botswana and President Seretse Khama, should display principled leadership and play a crucial role in resolving this crisis by engaging union leadership, student bodies and relevant government departments to forge an acceptable way forward," said Phelisa Nkomo, Advocacy Programme Manager, Black Sash.
The Botswana parliament offered in April a five per cent increase in wages, a move rejected by the unions, which has instead stuck to its demands for a 16 per cent wage increase, saying the increase was necessary to offset rising commodity costs. Earlier this month, Botswana President Ian Khama revised the figure to 3 per cent, sighting that the country was recovering from a recession which had left the government with a significant deficit.
Netsanet Belay, Director Policy and Research, CIVICUS: World Alliance of Citizen Participation said the coalition condemned the use of violent force by authorities, and urged both parties to consider a peaceful resolution to the disruption which had caused several school, medial clinics and hospitals in capital Gaborone to close.
"Trade unions must also play their role in advising the students on acceptable conduct within constitutional and legal parameters while striking or engaging in civil disobedience actions," said Belay.
Members of the South African coalition also expressed their full solidarity for Botswana civil society exercising their right to protest.
They also stressed their full support for the Botswana Centre for Human Rights (Ditshwanelo) public call for calm and leadership from the government of Botswana to bring a halt to the ongoing public sector strike that has crippled the country for over a week now.

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