You heard a manufacturer’s voice, now hear mine

Botswana’s interest on the manufacturing sector is largely ignited by its potential to draw the economy’s attention from the mineral sector. The country’s high import bill, abundance of raw materials and a nurturing operating environment are a few of the motivating factors that present the manufacturing sector as a budding growth area. Botswana lures foreign investors with the promise that they will be entering into a golden hub of opportunities that they can exploit. Quite a number of foreign investors have heeded the call and put their private capital into the spectrum of options within the sector. It is in part the reason the manufacturing sector is dominated by foreigners, which naturally creates a multicultural setting within the work place. As would be expected cultural differences manifest in issues such as those of communication breakdown, differing work relations and work styles to mention but a few. Cultural awareness therefore becomes an important role to be played within such a setting, but how many of the foreign owned factory plants set up in Botswana recognize the importance of tearing through the veil of cultural diversity?

What this article does not intend to do is turn it into a factory worker complaints mill. It is rather meant to garner appreciation on what happens when factory plants set their eyes sternly on the profit line at the expense of employee welfare, appropriate payment structure and career progression. I received a call from a factory worker after he read an article I wrote about three weeks ago, “The challenges of operating a manufacturing plant in Botswana: Mustaq Plastics’ woes.” The story captured the difficulties of a foreign owned manufacturing plant, Mustaq Plastics. Two weeks after receiving the call, I met the worker at a restaurant in one of the malls where he passionately told me a story. My source, who preferred anonymity, felt strongly that the voice of a factory worker also deserves to be heard. The words below share experiences of a factory worker.

“I want to rid myself of things that mulishly sit in my company in many of the dark and silent nights. It is during those nights that I’m haunted by truths I often wish were lies. I wake up every morning to go to work but I find that the complete lack of recognition of my face trumps the mere appreciation of having a job, something many people today feel an aching longing for. I work in a foreign-owned factory which unsurprisingly molds a communication barrier, a wall neither I nor my employer has considered to break because as long as I’m manning a machine, then an exchange of opinions is secondary to my job. I suspect that an exchange of words will solve many of the things that go wrong inside our factory plant but the moment I stand in front of a machine to operate it, both my face and voice become camouflaged with it. Operating a machine takes out the human element in the job but it doesn’t make me feel any less of the human being I am, at some point I get tired of piling problems that go unnoticed and unresolved. What this only does to me is make me feel left out of a job I could be taking pride in doing.

While I realize that business is tough these days, I also think that I deserve to hold a gainful job. What I get paid does not even come close to meeting a quarter of my needs, it actually makes me understand why some people quit just to go and sit at home. What is the point of not seeing the fruit of working, they often ask? You have to understand that simply having something to call a job doesn’t give you motivation to work. Ask yourself why there are alarmingly high cases of theft and negligence of work in factory plants, often termed as ‘Laziness’. In some cases pay increment isn’t the solution we seek as factory workers. Imagine the risk we take with our very own lives going home after knocking off late on some nights. To rub salt into the wound, when I fall sick compassion is not conveyed.

There are people in factory plants who have been doing the same job for as many as 20 years without progression. But what is even more painful is to have someone come in from the same country as the employer and watch them progress to a senior position in a short space of time. The pain in this is that they come in knowing little or nothing and have to be taught by local people whom tomorrow they look down upon. Sometimes they fill jobs that we as local people are capable of carrying out.

Government policies are detached from the realities on the ground. It’s not that we don’t realize opportunities within the manufacturing sector as Batswana, what we lack is a strong and deliberate support from government so as to use our experience and skills in exploiting these opportunities”

One of the conditions that foreign investors must satisfy as required by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs in their set up in Botswana is that the transfer of skills to local people must take place. Gazette Business however established that there are no structures put in place in factory plants to ensure that there is a transfer of knowledge and skills to locals. It is because of this that they remain couched as employees missing the opportunity to grow as employers.