Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Civil Service Workers Strike in Botswana

Shortly before Easter, the union that represents over 100,000 civil service and government employees went on strike seeking an increase in their salaries. The strike was originally intended to last 10 days and was billed by some as the "Mother of All Strikes." The workers marched from the office of local government to the offices of the city government to deliver their petition and then sang a few songs.

Across the country over 90,000 workers went on strike and the many government services were unavailable. Many clinics here and the main hospital operated with skeleton staffs, effectively closing them.

I didn't quite know what to expect but life continued pretty much the same as it always had in the days following the announcement. The only major annoyance was that the woman who is in charge of the government stockpiles of condoms went on strike and I couldn't get condoms for my prevention project. Everything remained peaceful and the striking workers all congregated on a nearby soccer field and sang hymns.

The original 10 days passed and neither side could come to terms. The union declared that the strike would then be indefinite and it continued. Then, in May there started to be scattered reports of violence. Botswana is a relatively small country, rife with rumors, and there was a lot of misinformation. There was a small riot by students in the southern part of the country and there were some other small scattered events like burning tires in the road in other parts of the country. After the riot by students the government closed all school in the country (the teachers have been on strike but the students were expected to report to class every day).

Things still were quiet here in Francistown until this past week. (I was on vacation and wasn't in town). Apparently, some strikers became upset and started burning tires in the main traffic circle and then started to march into town. In the video below, you can see that the police arrived, fired tear gas, and the crowd dispersed quickly. There was some property damage and a few injuries, but nothing major happened.

That one day was the extent of things. On Monday, the union called off the strike and most workers here went back to work.

Also, here is a picture gallery of the strike around the country: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63040507@N03/with/5733818886/

I have never felt unsafe or scared to be here and nothing that happened with the strike has changed that. Botswana remains a very peaceful country I am thankful the strike did not escalate.