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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


SA Policies Impact On Botswana

Jean-Jacques Cornish

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 benefits."

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 international standards.

"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 pregnant sufferers.

"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 HIV/Aids.


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 leadership.

Mogae and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade are the only two African leaders to have publicly criticised the government of President Robert Mugabe.