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“The Duty to Act Fairly”: Ethics, Legal Anthropology, and Labor Justice in the Manual Workers Union of Botswana

  • Pnina Werbner (a1)

This paper analyses the significance of the Botswana High Court and Court of Appeal judgments of a case in which the Manual Worker Union, a blue-collar public sector union, challenged the Botswana Government to reinstate dismissed workers with all their past benefits. I examine the role of public ethics and morality in Botswana as reflected in key notions used by High Court judges, such as “the duty to act fairly” and “legitimate expectations,” and argue that legal anthropologists have neglected such ideas, despite their having become a bedrock of contemporary judicial reasoning. While anthropology has shown a renewed interest in ethics, issues of public ethics and morality remain relatively unexplored in contemporary legal anthropological debates. One has to go back to the work of Max Gluckman on reasonableness in judicial decision-making among the Barotse to find foundational anthropological insights into the morality and ethics of law in non-Western societies. In the legally plural context of Botswana, notions of equity and fairness, this paper argues, “permeate” the legal landscape.

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