SA Policies Impact On Botswana
& Guardian (Johannesburg)
March 19, 2003
Posted to the web March 21, 2003
The long-overdue joint permanent
commission established by South Africa and Botswana in the
second week of March has its work cut out.
Determined not to let anything spoil the
pomp and ceremony of President Thabo Mbeki's state visit,
South Africa's mineral-rich neighbour has stayed its hand on
criticising his government. That time will come when
officials, and then ministers, get down to business.
The government of President Festus Mogae
has real issues with Pretoria related to transformation,
HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe. Mbeki was elaborately deferential to
the Batswana when he became the first foreign leader to
address their National Assembly.
He thanked them for their support and
sacrifice during the liberation struggle.
South Africa has much to learn, Mbeki
said, from a far more mature democracy. He said Mogae's team
has a vested interest in playing the teacher.
Botswana is directly affected by
virtually every socio-political development in South Africa.
Plans for spreading Botswana's wealth are being hurt by South
Africa's selective transformation exercise, say officials.
"We have increasing difficulty
explaining the need for patience and prudence to our people
when they see a few black South Africans become very rich,
very quickly," a Botswana official said in the second
week of March.
"What is happening across the
border is the opposite of our plans to distribute the wealth
as widely and as fairly as possible."
Botswana is particularly nervous about
the African National Congress's designs for increased
corporate involvement, particularly in the mining sector.
"The Botswana government is half
owner of the mining company Debswana," explained an
official. "We trickle down the benefits from this to the
population. If De Beers, who owns the other half, is diluted
by transformation action in South Africa, this will dilute our
Botswana would gladly share in a
programme to distribute the mineral wealth but would bridle at
further enriching a small elite who have grown wealth by
"We will be investigating ways of
spreading the benefits more widely - perhaps through the
involvement of pension funds," the official said.
The joint commission will also hear
Botswana's criticism about the continued ambivalence of the
South African government on the HIV/Aids scourge.
Botswana has a higher HIV/Aids per
capita mortality rate than South Africa and has adopted an
aggressive programme of giving free antiretrovirals to
"We appreciate that, with its
larger population, the South African government has financial
and logistical difficulties rolling out its policy. We find
that every sceptical statement made in South Africa undermines
our efforts here to tackle the plague head on," said a
health worker. She was referring particularly to Minister of
Health Manto Tshabala-Msimang's implicit deprioritising of
In what is bound to be a
straight-talking session, the commission will also hear
Botswana's view that the time has come for a tougher South
African stance on Zimbabwe.
Mogae has said that Zimbabwe's real
problem is not the natural drought, but a dearth of political
Mogae and Senegalese President Abdoulaye
Wade are the only two African leaders to have publicly
criticised the government of President Robert Mugabe.