In June 2022, Jane Masta – Organizer for East and Southern Africa – and Margarida Teixeira – Communication and Media Manager – conducted a field visit in Gaborone, Botswana, to learn more about the work of our affiliate, the Botswana Informal Sector Association (BOISA), about the challenges they are facing and opportunities that we can seize together.
Striving for visibility and a voice in Botswana
BOISA was first created in 2012 and was officially registered in 2014. Their constitutional mandate is to advocate, represent and promote the rights and wellbeing of all informal economy workers. The organization officially joined StreetNet as an affiliate in 2019.
The current chairperson, Mr. Thatayaone Ramasu, said that he first became involved in fighting for informal traders’ rights when “as a trader, I saw there were many challenges between the traders and the government”. Indeed, one of the main problems of traders in Botswana is the feeling that they lack representation and a voice.
According to Treasurer Mrs. Tebogo Serurubere, having such representation is what persuaded her to join BOISA. “In 2019, there was a lockdown. I saw BOISA in the media and contacted them. I told Secretary General Mpho Matoteng that this organization is what I have long been looking for and I was so happy it had been created.” She explains “After the lockdown, we came together, made a WhatsApp group and talked from different parts of the country”,
As the story of Mrs. Serurubere illustrates, COVID-19 made BOISA more relevant than ever and the organization seized this opportunity. By engaging with key partners and stakeholders – such as BFTU (Botswana Federation of Trade Unions); SACBTA (Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association), BALA (Botswana Association of Local Authorities) and the Botsawna Bulding Society – BOISA has grown its visibility and invested in drafting a three-year strategic plan.
“We have been able to network with many agencies,” added Executive Secretary Mr. Tefo Metsing. “We have been participating in many workshops and we hope that we will also be signing a memorandum of understanding with a local bank that will allow informal traders to open bank accounts with it.”
BOISA has also recently started working with the Institute for Labour and Employment Studies (ILES), which offers both short and long courses and diplomas and aims to be the think tank of trade unions in the country. BOISA will have the chance to speak at the upcoming Labour Conference in Botswana, organized by ILES and featuring representatives of workers, the government and private sector.
Challenges for informal traders
In Botswana, traders do not have to pay a fee for selling spaces and are often free to sell in different parts of the cities. However, this lack of structure is the reason why most traders do not have access to decent workplaces and why they do not have permanent selling spaces. According to Mrs. Serurubere, “we are not recognized by the government and not even by the public. They see us as the people who make the cities dirty and do not value us”.
In Botswana, each county council has its own rules related to informal traders. But the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is looking to change that. According to the Director of Local Governance, they are now in the process of drafting model bylaws, which can be implemented across the country. In a meeting with the Director, BOISA congratulated the effort but hopes they can be included in the process.
But a lack of bylaws is not the only challenge for traders. In a meeting organized with BOISA’s members from a local Gaborone market, it was clear that informal cross-border trade was one of their main concerns. As a broad landlocked country with a small population, many of Botswana’s resources are imported, and informal traders play a big role in such trade. However, the risks are plentiful – from policies that can change with little to no warning, to high costs at the borders to discourage traders from working, to harassment, violence and even sexual assault. After learning more about StreetNet’s work, the traders were particularly interested in the opportunity of exposure visits and SNI’s ICBT project.
Investing in youth
BOISA understands the importance of youth leadership. Currently, their Vice-Secretary Michael Tubabwene is also the Youth Representative and the Chairperson of the Chobe region. He explained that being an entrepreneur is very difficult for youth in Botswana, since it is very hard to grow or even start a proper business.
Russel Aobakwe of Young Africa Botswana agrees. This organization provides entrepreneurship training and mentoring to young people in Botswana. Most of the youth they work with are in informal employment and require assistance to grow their businesses. During a meeting at their Skills and Youth Center, we could see the potential for cooperation between BOISA youth and Young Africa Botswana, and hope for future collaboration.
Fostering synergies for labor rights
During our field visit, we also introduced BOISA to the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC), with which StreetNet has collaborated extensively. In a meeting with Executive Director Mavis Koogotsitse, she stated SATUCC’s commitment to work for the implementation of ILO Recommendation 204 on the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy and to encourage trade unions to organize and support informal economy workers. Other issues, such as migration and cross-border trade, are also high on SATUCC’s agenda.
Let’s keep mobilizing
One of BOISA’s main priorities right now is to grow their membership and show to other informal economy workers how they can all come together and fight for their rights. Chairperson Mr. Thatayaone Ramasu encouraged informal traders to unite and Treasurer Mrs. Tebogo Serurubere stated that informal economy workers should be included in decision making which affects them. “That is the main thing we want”, she added.
After three exciting days learning more about BOISA’s work, we are confident that StreetNet can continue supporting them in their mission and that together we can defend the rights of informal traders in Botswana!
See the full photo album of field visit in our Flickr, click here.
See our video report of the field visit in our YouTube channel: