I believe that as members of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) we should uphold our own ethos as enshrined in our constitution. This rejoinder serves that purpose after observing shrewd propagandists hanging truth for a penny. BOPEU’s history speaks for itself. It grew from being just a Government Employees Staff Association as far back as 1942, and moved up stages to transform into Botswana Civil Service Association and Botswana Civil Servants Association after some years. In 2007, under the leadership of Andrew Motsamai, it underwent another transformation, culminating with its attainment of a Trade Union status.
BCSA was then to be known as the Botswana Public Employees Union; later dubbed the union of choice by its members. It was throughout all these transformations, on which I was one of those who attempted at one point to contest for leadership and was deeply humiliated, and through good governance and focused leadership we were able to become what we are now. We must not be allowed to deviate from our core objectives. These objectives are clearly enshrined in our constitution and wage increment is but one of those objectives. Wage increase alone will never give us the welfare and comfort we desire from our growth.
Some unions have miserably failed to grow; they have regressed. We have grown beyond expectation and our strength is not only in our numbers; for a change we are able to use our economic might whenever a need arises. We should not shy away from flaunting our achievements, we should celebrate that our investments have given and continue to give us profitable returns. I am not oblivious of any failures we might have encountered along the way but merely focusing on the positives and appreciating that our decision to inject money into UNIGEM was a necessary business risk. Our economic might has been by far the greatest wound to BOFEPUSU, hence shouting unpalatable repugnant obscenities. This we got through hard work and focus on goal posts.
The role of the BOPEU Executive Committee that we voted in Palapye is and remains amongst the resolutions we made aimed at serving the masses of BOPEU. This includes strengthening ties with them, learning from them, conveying their aspirations to the relevant bodies such as the Public Service Bargaining Council, the employer, political parties and like-minded organisations. This extends to working with mass organisations within the framework of BOPEU, constitution, policies and programmes. If you observe clearly, all these are being done accurately and without fail. The biggest problem, which has always been a threat to our union, is the involvement and a keen interest of BOFEPUSU to run our union. In their failure to run our union, they have embarked on a delusional trip to convey to first to themselves and second to those who wish our existence away - that BOPEU is the devil incarnate.
Our solidarity at this point is of great necessity for we are being blamed for things we know nothing about. All these lies are premised on our refusal to align BOPEU with a political movement or movements heading to the 2014 General Elections. Our reasoning, which we must uphold to this day, is that ours is a union free from colour politics. Ours is a union of open politics where each and every member is free to form cohorts with whichever political formation they deem peaceful to their standing. Like many members of BOPEU, I prefer to be politically aligned without being coerced. I do not pay my monthly subscription to BOPEU to give it a license to dictate to me which political party I ought to belong to. I do so because I believe in the objectives and programmes of BOPEU as a trade union and principles enshrined in the BOPEU constitution.
Like many members of BOPEU, when I joined BOPEU I was not joining any political party but I was joining a trade union. I had before pledged my allegiance to BOFEPUSU. Such allegiance is no more because I was a BOFEPUSU member because of my in good standing membership to BOPEU. In December 2015, comrades travelled to Palapye for the BOPEU Congress and not only elected a new leadership but also took the opportunity to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU. I was not in Palapye but I have come to appreciate from reports that whatever decision was done in Palapye was necessary to safeguard the unity and solidarity of BOPEU. This, I have come to learn, was to vigorously defend the interests of the workers and not of the selected few as BOFEPUSU has on the other angle made a choice.
The basis of our constitutional existence is membership and the right of BOPEU to challenge anything that stands against the basis of our existence, thus the intentions of BOFEPUSU should be challenged. A double-edged sword has been drawn, what should matter is how deep it is going to slice and if we are ready to employ the necessary remedies to cure the cut. My leaders, there is no time to point fingers and dwell on who said what, where and when. With respect, the best solution for any storm is to be true to yourself before anyone else. And our opportunity as BOPEU is now to remind BOFEPUSU that in as much as we really want salary increment, the purpose of BOPEU’s existence is not based primarily on wage negotiations but on the overall welfare of the workers of which wages are just a part of.
BOFEPUSU must be discouraged at all intends and purposes from using the desperation of workers to get a wage increase as a tool to control BOPEU and the activities of BOPEU. We are BOPEU, we are not BOFEPUSU. We are former members of BOFEPUSU and that was then. BOFEPUSU must accept that the BOPEU 2015 congress resolved to pull out of BOFEPUSU and nothing is going to change that. BOFEPUSU and its cronies must accept what they cannot change. We are aware that there are those who use the name of trade unionism to openly say that their trade unionism is openly critical of any wrong doing but behind curtains engage in selfish intentions.
Though we must not necessarily be looking for faults, we would have been wrong to find deep rooted faults in BOFEPUSU and not raise them. It is only unfortunate that when our leaders brought up the wrongs done at BOFEPUSU we were seen to be an enemy of the workers. BOPEU is an epitome of good governance and there is no question about that. Maybe as some have expressed we should do more in expressing that in as much as we are not aligning with the Umbrella for Democratic Change, we are also not aligning with the Botswana Democratic Party and the Botswana Congress Party. We must leave those alignments to individual members. Forgive me My Leaders, but I'm true at heart.
Leader Thabo Keaipha
BOPEU member – Moshupa