Discourses of Poor Work Ethic in Botswana: A Historical Perspective, 1930–2010
This article analyses discourses of poor work ethic in Botswana from the colonial 1930s to the first decade of the new millennium. The traditional Batswana ethos stressed the importance of hard work, but in the early 1930s British colonial administrators had begun to complain about the Batswana chiefs, leading to colonial policy changes intended to address attitudes to work. Despite these changes, the issue of poor work ethic remained a critical topic of discussion by the colonial hierarchy in the mid-1940s, and a long-running debate has continued ever since, targeted today at the post-colonial public service. This article shows how debates about poor work ethic intensified in the post-colony owing to political patronage, corruption and politicisation of the public service by Botswana's ruling élite. This discourse describes the erosion of a traditional ethos of self-help and self-reliance and decries its replacement by a syndrome of over-dependence on the state by the people. Meanwhile, numerous attempts by government to address poor work ethic have produced unimpressive results. Although a meaningful quantitative comparison of colonial and post-colonial work productivity would be difficult to achieve, an analysis of the evolution of discourses surrounding work ethic in Botswana can yield insights into changes in attitudes of people and the state toward work and social welfare from the colonial period to the present.