Like I had written in my last update, I had been invited to join the Paralegal staff of Ditshwanelo in their participation in the labour day celebrations. The focus of Ditshwanelo was on domestic workers’ rights. Their working conditions and dependency of their employers along with weak organization among them has led to a situation where many domestic workers are being exploited by their employers. Ditshwanelo and other groups intend to form a foundation to further strengthen the position of domestic workers but so far the establishment has been denied.
My cab driver from yesterday, a young chap named Obza, had been given instructions from my boss to come and pick me up at the apartment at 6 AM. I had my doubts whether he would arrive, but he was there. When I told him I was surprised he silenced me efficiently by pointing out that he is a businessman.
In front of the gym
That lets me describe some peculiarities of Botswana’s taxi system. There are normal taxis with a taximeter and there are more informal ones without a taximeter. For them, the average price per transport is between 20 and 40 Pula (2 to 4 euros). Obza wanted 30 Pula, so I was fine with that. If you find a driver whom you trust, you get his cell phone number and then contact him whenever you need him. It gives you the advantage to better bargain for longer distances plus the safe feeling of having a driver you know.
Before I could enter the cab however, I had to see an uninvited visitor in my room, which you can see in the attached picture. The spider really was kind of big and I was lucky to spot her. She was very slow and lazy, so I could easily transport her outside the building. I wonder though how she got there in the first place…
Anyway, very tired I arrived at the Africa Mall at 6:15, the agreed upon meeting place and time only to see 3 or 4 people waiting, none of them familiar…it was still dark and the place was pretty run down.
Where's Mma Ramotswe?
Still I did not feel unsafe. Gabs and the Batswana have an air of peacefulness about them. I don’t know how else to describe it. I was walking around, looking at the shops while the sun was finally rising. Others started to trickle in and by 7:15 my boss and other staff were there, too. We were joined by about 10-15 domestic workers that Ditshwanelo has counselled. The union handed out t-shirts to the crowd that had grown to about 300-400 people. I was the only white attending. Additionally I received my Ditshwanelo polo in light blue with the logo on the breast and a mission statement for May Day 2008 on its back. The march started at around 7:45 with cars with sound equipment in front and back plus one (note: ONE!) policeman on his motorbike. Behind the first car marched people with banners including one of Ditshwanelo. I am normally not a person to march in Labour Day celebrations, simply never having cared that much about unions and what they do. My best friend from Germany Thomas (whom I always consider as rather left • hence one of his nicknames “Commie Tommie”) took the possibility to comment sarcastically that he never thought it would ever happen.
During the march people were chanting songs and dancing along the tunes.
Dancing during the speech at a Labour Day celebration in Gaborone, Botswana
The atmosphere was so cool. I had to call a friend in Germany (woke him up) to share that experience right away…They were sometimes running in that peculiar way where you move like you are running but not really being much faster than normal speed. You move your arms along. Do you know what I mean? You might know it from anti-apartheid marches. Like I said, the atmosphere was incredible. Very peaceful and very moving.
On the way, I spotted something of which I had to take a picture for all you Mma Ramotswe lovers: I found the “Zebra Way”. Now I know that Mma Ramotswe lives at “Zebra Drive”, but I guess this is as close as we can get in the real world. Intend to come back and check out that road further…J
We reached the final rally point, a gymnasium, under blazing sunlight at around 9:30.
The only way to recognize that winter is approaching was looking at some fellow marchers (see picture). The president of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) was waiting for us along with the Minister for Defence, Justice and Security. On a side note, I had mentioned to my boss earlier that the combination of these offices is not tolerated well in Germany. There was a German state that tried to combine interior and justice but they were forced to change it, if I remember correctly. Mma Mtunzi told me it was similar here. The new president created that office and people are not happy about it.
The singing and dancing continued in front of the gymnasium. We were then addressed by a speaker of the union who got everyone very excited and moved into the gym. Seats had been neatly put up and the podium was filled with dignitaries from the union and government as well as civil society.
Relaxing in between speeches
The meeting opened with a prayer and the national anthem. Then we did some singing of labour songs before the president of the union delivered his fiery speech (in Setswana, unfortunately). Now I don’t know how our unions celebrate these occasions, but there was singing and dancing and playing riddle games after each speech. It kept the audience all fired up and also helped you stand the long seating…I took a short video (I only discovered that feature on my dad’s camera in the gym, otherwise I had taken one during the march as well) of a dance that actually took place in the midst of the speech by a judge. Right at the end of the video you see the good soul of Ditshwanelo, Mma Kai, who takes care of our physical well-being and tidies the place. She is a wonderful Motswana lady.
After the union leader the minister spoke. His speech was in English and it was a typical government speech: free trade will help Botswana, embrace globalization as much as you can, trust the government to put aside bad sides of globalization.
Realizing it's winter
What was noticeable was that once the speakers spoke Setswana the audience was often commenting and giving sounds of appreciation. Once speakers switched into English that changed and the room was more silent. Whether that was a sign of not understanding English that well or a more deeply routed reason, I don’t know.
Later, we listened to greetings from other organizations, among them BOCONGO (Botswana Conference of NGOs), BONELA (a group particularly involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS), the Zimbabwean union movement, and the domestic workers’ group. After three hours of talking and singing and dancing the meeting was called off around 1 PM and there was food for everyone. It was a tremendous experience and I am really glad I went although I was very tired in the morning. I then took a combi taxi to the Main Mall, did some window shopping and went to an Internet café. I returned here at around 6 PM, just in time before a rain started. My first Botswana rain.
At the end of a long day
I suppose the constant cheering of the word “Pula”, the most important Setswana word which literally means “rain” but is also used as the currency name and by state officials at the end of speeches and echoed by the assembly had finally done something to convince the powers to let it rain…
It was an exciting day and I am very moved by the peacefulness, cheeryness and joyfulness of the assembly. Tomorrow and the weekend are off. I’ll try to see the other FES intern, Stefan, and maybe can talk some of my flatmates into taking a tour somewhere if the weather permits.
So let me end this entry appropriately:
Viva workers’ right!
Viva decent work conditions!
Viva the unions!
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