For the over 16 000 voters expected to make long queues at this weekend’s Goodhope-Mabule by-election, the reality is, a good number of them are struggling with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on government handouts.
This is a sign of a deteriorating economic security and government’s failure to find a permanent solution to the problem of unemployment. Goodhope-Mabule is a compact constituency; covering an area of 2735 square kilometres with a population of around 34 000 people. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of that population only 16900 registered to vote in last year’s general election. IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba told Botswana Guardian Wednesday that all those registered to vote in last year’s general election will be allowed to vote this Saturday. Polling stations will be opened at 0630hrs and close at 7pm in the evening to allow for the voters to choose their next area MP following the resignation of James Mathokgwane. However there is likelihood that some of them will be queuing in this long winding queues on empty stomachs or not knowing where their next meal will come from. Available records from Statistics Botswana indicate that in Barolong District where the Goodhope-Mabule constituency is housed, 4103 Batswana aged between 15 and above are unemployed.
1846 of them are female while 2257 are male. Census figures provide an official measure of poverty - a snapshot that does not really capture the makeup of those who cycle in and out of poverty at different points in their lives. A report of Statistics Botswana in collaboration with the World Bank’s Mapping Poverty in Botswana 2010 makes for a painful reading as it puts the poverty situation in the area into a clearer perspective. Three villages from the constituency; Lejwana, Tswaaneng and Sekhutlane feature in the top 20 villages in Botswana with the highest poverty rates. To understand the poverty situation in the constituency one has to study figures from each village. In Sekhutlane for instance 488 of the 736 people are estimated to be poor. This means more than half of the population in the village are poor. In Bethel 49 people are considered poor out of a population of 316. The poverty situation in other villages is not making for a better reading either. In Goodhope where 36 years Maureen Tadubana works as street vendor 570 of the villagers out of an estimated population of 4224 are said to be poor.
This is the same village where Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II representing the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the weekend by-election resides. Tadubana counts herself among the poor. Selling sweets and other small groceries near the main road the hawker says she doesn’t make much profit from her business. “It depends,” she quips, when asked about the profit she makes in a month. “I can make a profit of P200.00 a month, but this is not helpful because I have to spend money on transport when I travel to Lobatse to buy stuff to sell,” she stated. Her business, which she described as stagnant, experiences little growth because Goodhope has little developments. Lack of water and electricity has become a permanent feature in the village. Residents of the village have to occasionally travel to Lobatse for their daily or monthly shopping needs. With no bank, no major shops, it is increasingly becoming taxing for small business owners like Tadubana to make ends meet. “There is no water and electricity,” she says dejectedly. She adds that before the campaigns for the by-election started, they could go for months without water but now that the election is near things have improved a bit. Such shenanigans by those who have been vested with power to provide services are the main reasons why Tadubana and many others don’t trust politicians. “I don’t trust politicians. They make promises which they don’t keep,” she said.
As she speaks campaigns in the Goodhope-Mabule parliamentary by-election have entered the homestretch with the three main candidates making door-to-door visits and hosting mega rallies to woo voters. Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II will face Eric Molale of the BDP and Comfort Maruping of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) for the leadership of the constituency, which was abandoned by UDC’s James Mathokgwane. As Tadubana sat inside her stall on Saturday waiting for the next customer to buy sweets, truckloads of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party faithful were being ferried to Phitshane-Molopo where Molale was being launched. On the other hand the BCP cadres were busy canvassing for support for their candidate Maruping in Pitsane. In Musi, 53-year-old Gabootlwelwe Kgadisa sat near a makeshift kitchen preparing food for her two grandchildren oblivious of the loudspeaker campaigns going on in Phitshane-Molopo and Pitsane.
“Are you saying the MP has left,” she queried before adding, “So who is going to replace him?” The unemployed Kgadisa says her only source of income was from the government programme-Ipelegeng; a short-term job creation programme. She was only employed for a few months and she had to make way for others. “I am now unemployed, because we are employed on rotational basis,” she said. The mother of four children said she was earning about P540 per month, which according to her was not enough to cater for her daily needs. But it is not all gloom and doom as the Goodhope-Phitshane-Molopo road is littered with big farming fields owned by well-off individuals, and thus the constituency presents a tricky political test for politicians trying to win the hearts of the poor and the rich alike. Botswana is an upper middle income country one of only six in sub-Saharan Africa, but disparities between the haves and the have-nots is startling and growing. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) figures show that the country’s Gini-coefficient (statistical measure of inequality) remains at 0.6, suggesting radical differences between the landlords and the landless.
What do candidates hold?
The candidates are promising to do things differently to address the problems facing Goodhope-Mabule. What is not clear is whether the poor voters who make up the constituency will have their lives changed or not after all is done and dusted. Tadubana says she will vote for the ruling party but she does not expect things to change for her. “I don’t have any issues with the BDP. I grew up in the party. But I don’t trust politicians,” says Tadubana as she stands up to sell a cigarette to a customer. Her only worry for now is her sick goat. Because of lack of developments in Goodhope, she will have to spend P21.00 for transport to Lobatse to buy medicine for the goat. Meanwhile, IEC’s Maroba says his organisation is ready for the by-election. “The election material is ready and we will soon be sending it to the polling districts,” he said Wednesday.