The Botswana Worker’s Strike – Part 2 – Effects of the Long Strike

The strike was seemingly unending.  Since the first 10 days ended almost two months ago daily questions still float around the office: What’s going on with the strike today? Any progress? News? As the days passed the government publicly and repeatedly stated that money wasn’t available for a salary increase, but this didn’t seem to pacify anyone. Increasing the strike’s intensity was the fact that the unions couldn’t hold their promise to pay the strikers a salary when the government refused.  The workers fighting for a raise began to realize that they may not be receiving any paycheck at all.

A few weeks ago in Molepolole (the village where I spent pre-service training), students who were left without teachers to teach them began vandalizing schools and looting shops, demanding that the government end the strike. This caused schools to close throughout the country for about a week, and reopened only when they could be patrolled by police. Aside from a skeletal staff that was not allowed to strike, hospitals and clinics also shut down. Subsequently, government employed teachers and nurses on strike started getting fired.

Later, Ministers of Parliament held public meetings in various villages to address the issues surrounding the strike. Probably a well intended outreach, but the people only got riled up and angry and ended up physically running the ministers out while chanting and exclaiming that they would “rather be led by President Mugabe.” (this article link is from a Botswana newspaper and is especially colorful and dramatic)

Just a week ago on Tuesday, things culminated towards what I hope was the worst of the whole ordeal. Supposedly June 7th was the day an agreement was to be finalized – a 3% increase across the board for all government employees – and the strike was to end.  A 3% increase, however, for someone making one of the the lowest pay grades of P1200/month ($185), would be a raise of P36/month ($5.54). To put it in perspective that’s about the cost of a large bag of rice.

So Tuesday the strikers returned again to the forefront, but this time with a different attitude. Instead of peaceful protesting outside Ntshe House, Ntshe House employees fled from the building when rumors surfaced that the strikers were heading there for a confrontation.  I left with my coworkers.

Though my supervisor, Mma Mathumo, was running in jest, it was because none of us were quite sure what to expect. I exited the building and could feel the air of the city change as I walked down the street. Cars honked loudly at each other, taxis sped through intersections, and people’s pacing seemed quicker and more deliberate. All of a sudden I noticed the ladies who perch at tables surrounding the perimeter of the building to sell fat-cakes, boiled eggs and candy were hastily packing up their tables.  People were hurrying to get out of the strikers’ way.

I passed through the popular nearby shopping center, Galo Mall, on the way home and came across a woman repeatedly sneezing and crying in what looked like a painful allergic reaction. Once I got to Galo I learned that the civil unrest prompted the use of tear gas, forcing the stores to close early. Strikers charged down the streets and trashed another popular shopping center down the road, setting car tires on fire.

This video was not taken by me, but by someone down the street from where I was.

That afternoon Peace Corps told me to stay home and not come back to work the next day if the civil unrest persisted. They also put a temporary travel ban on FTown for all traveling volunteers. What’s interesting about this event (and all previous related events) is that Botswana is such a peaceful country, so this feels uncomfortable for everyone. No one is used to seeing Batswana react like this, and I think it’s clear the strikers themselves don’t want this to escalate into violence. All of this drama happened and then it stopped, as if it was a mid-morning mini riot and then people broke for lunch. Afterwards Francistown became calm, and I went to work the next day.

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Update: Union leaders met with the Directorate of Public Service Management (the Government Employer) on Sunday, June 12th to agree to temporarily suspend the strike, but a portion of the strikers are refusing to go back to work. Though the decision might have caused a chasm within the striking population, it seems most agree the strike is essentially over for now. Those who lost their jobs are requested to reapply, and workers can expect a 3% increase in salary starting in September. More later…

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It’s Happening Now

My Peace Corps invitation is in the mail!!

“That’s great dear. I’m proud of you. Now sell everything. ” -Dad

Placement Update

Just a quick note –

I received a phone call from the Placement Office this morning – my nomination program, which was once slated for March and then for June, has now been canceled.

Eep!

On a positive note, however, they said they would definitely place me in a different program, and that I may leave as early as April. I also may find out my invitation details by the end of this week or next!!

Placement Nudge

Perhaps the Placement Office keeps up with Peace Corps Journals and just read about how patient I’ve been (ha). Perhaps they were so impressed with my calm demeanor towards the whole thing (haha) that yesterday they decided to send me a little nudge.

Or, more likely, perhaps they’ve finally begun to review more applications for the April-June nominations.

Either way, the Placement Office is “busy reviewing my file” and apparently needs a resume update!

They also need a second romantic questionnaire update, which I am happy to give them. The fact that I’ve had a significant other for 8 years has been a large factor in this application. No, we’re not married, but yes, we believe we’re ready for a period like this in our life. I’ll write about that progression if or when I become a volunteer.

To everyone writing comments – thank you! They’ve been very helpful and greatly appreciated.

Placement Patience

So it’s mid-December, and I haven’t heard anything yet from the Peace Corps office regarding my application.  I don’t know who my Placement Officer is, and though I’m volunteering a whole lot, I haven’t been asked to share that recent information with anyone at the main office.  It’s alright though, and certainly a little expected. Patience has become the word of the season.

Though the Peace Corps office stated that June departures won’t hear anything until at least January/February, they’ve teased us a little by already sending out a couple of invites for that time period (or, at least the PeaceCorpsWiki Timeline leads us to believe this).  This has created quite a buzz in some online forums among many other “June babies” like myself.  It’s reassuring to be able to communicate with others who are also biting their nails in anticipation for something to happen.

People ask me all the time if I know where and when I’m headed, and I reassure them that I should know any month now.

In the Meantime

To make the wait from Medical Clearance to Invitation bearable, which I understand can take from now until January or February (or April!) 2010, I’ve been doing a lot of schooling and volunteering in Dallas. This is kind of a new frontier for me since usually school and/or work took up most of my time.  Currently, I’m sort of doing a mish mash of both and have more time to volunteer in multiple places at once.

No matter what I do when I’m out and about, when I’m sitting at my computer it’s only been the natural habit for me to browse the PC Wiki, Journals, and Facebook Groups for solace and help trying to pinpoint what my future with the Peace Corps will be like. I do this on an almost daily basis. It’s comforting to read other applicant and volunteer journals to see what they experience and to know that I’m not alone currently and won’t be when the time comes to ship out.

That being said, and now that I’m beginning this blog, I hope this new way of passing the time will not only serve me but other people in all degrees of curiosity about the Peace Corps experience.

Medically Cleared!

Four to 5 months earlier than I expected, I was medically cleared this morning!!

Medically clear