Because the media is already awash with the news that my leader, the President of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU); Comrade Andrew Motsamai is resigning from his position that he ascended to many years ago, may you please allow me space to contribute to this discourse. This discussion is important as it gives us an opportunity to look ahead of what will now happen to BOPEU. What happens to be BOPEU will be a deciding factor in so many ways regarding the future of trade unionism in Botswana. This discussion rather will be continued in many other forums, I might want to consider myself a mere instigator of this discussion. I, however, make it clear that I am not expressing from the view of those who wanted the downfall of BOPEU, pundits, and have been humbled at the table. But this discourse is mainly about them, about expectations from their side.
From BCSA to BOPEU
Motsamai, who is the longest serving President of BOPEU since the inception of the organisation in 2007, is the inaugural president of BOPEU to this day. We must be allowed to have a say in all these developments. Having been a part of this organisation from the Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA) era almost 13 years ago, I can proudly say that I have seen the growth, the challenges and the strength of Motsamai’s leadership. I must also add that I have also seen the weakness of pundits. It is my experience with being in this organisation, side by side with these pundits, that upon news reaching me that comrade Motsamai is leaving the BOPEU presidency, I could not just pretend to not have anything to say. I do have something to say to these pundits, who have been the same since Motsamai’s inaugural leadership at BCSA; before it became BOPEU. Please allow me. In all these moments, there have been these persistent pundits vying to use every opportunity either availed to them by circumstances and in most instances, availing such to themselves to want to discredit gold in naming it waste. I must be allowed to celebrate that such pundits have never succeeded at all. They have been humbled by members of BOPEU who were and are still able to realise and distinguish good from bad, evil from purity and leadership from ‘chancers’.
BOPEU as a business investor
BOPEU’s story is a remarkable history of trade unionism as it not only highlights a transition from a staff association into a trade union, but more significantly, and of brightened importance, the transformation of BOPEU from a mere labour organisation into a formidable force with an investment arm of repute; Babereki Investments. Those who have traversed this path with BOPEU as members and those of us who have had an opportunity to actively participate will agree with me that the foundation of Babereki Investments is a key and primary legacy of Comrade Motsamai. It is through this particular resistance, sustained persistence that we shall see and remember all that is the Motsamai leadership. Unless I am mistaken, no one is aware of any trade union leadership that has been able to pursue successfully investments at the pace, strength and resilience that the Motsamai leadership has done. We continue to pray for them that they find the wisdom and strength. Comrades must allow me to say these things because pundits have always had a field day in wanting to scrutinise every decision that was taken by Motsamai’s leadership.
Pundits have never missed an opportunity to want to present Motsamai in a way they preferred, a way that we members of BOPEU have never agreed with or never saw as belonging with the realm of who we are. We can proudly stand up as BOPEU members and declare that we are the most progressive trade union in Botswana and possibly Southern Africa. We have of course been saying this all along. We have received the wrath from pundits for refusing to agree with them, and for openly showing our support for the leadership of BOPEU. Some of us have been accused falsely over numerous things simply because we could not allow ourselves to support pundits at the BOPEU elective congresses, or at any of the numerous decision making platforms. I do not regret such; actually, I am proud to have rejected pundits.
BOPEU and Active Politics
Pundits have the opportunity to now verify or rather vindicate themselves regarding the position that BOPEU took three years ago when we openly declared that we shall not engage ourselves in active politics. This was a decision that was coming from bottom to up. It was not from top to bottom. It was the membership deciding that BOPEU must be free from active politics. Pundits went out and blamed Comrade Motsamai for this position. He was labeled all sorts of names. But as in the true nature of a leader, he took it well and understood that most dissenting voices were simply being misled somewhere, somehow in a corner by our well known and regular pundits. I remember well that those of us who publicly voiced our support in favour of what the collective BOPEU has resolved on, we were called names. I was in particular referred to as a boot licker. At one point some ‘chancer’ masquerading as an activist, questioned my membership status. Yet when he and his dancers were lobbying me for support, they saw in me a devoted member of BOPEU. This is just one of my many problems with these pundits. We will all be watching now if the decision to not engage BOPEU in active politics was a Motsamai’s agenda or a BOPEU agenda. If it was a Motsamai agenda, it will be expected to be reasonably reversed upon his departure from BOPEU presidency. But if it is a BOPEU agenda, it shall continue to define the collective us who maintains that aligning a trade union to political any political party is suicidal. It is not for me to prove that it is a BOPEU agenda. It is rather for pundits to prove that it was a Motsamai agenda. Whatever the relationship outlook that comes out of BOPEU and the active political parties after his departure, will inform us if the pundits were right or wrong in saying that he has pesonalised BOPEU. I already have my own answer.
BOPEU’s relationship with BOFEPUSU
With a reported average of 34000 members, BOPEU is the single largest trade union in Botswana. Not a single trade union in the country has been able to match these numbers. These numbers have been steadily growing and interestingly, they climbed the peak at an alarming rate after BOPEU opted to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU yet pundits were saying such a move will render BOPEU irrelevant. They have been humbled, and they must be told, and what a better time to tell them when we look back at the legacy of Comrade Motsamai whom we must thank for all the efforts, sacrifices and above all impartial leadership. These qualities are rare and unique and when one comes across them in practice as I have experienced them during this tenure of Comrade Motsamai, one has no choice but to say them out and loudly. This is so that pundits who try to deny them maybe asked to come out of the cocoon and accept that their quest to see themselves as leaders is not accompanied by what an institution as big and prospering as BOPEU needs.
Comrade Motsamai’s Successor
This brings me to my other point that whoever takes the fort as BOPEU president must be able to guide the labour agenda in Botswana. These numbers tell a story of success and whoever takes over as the leader of BOPEU must ensure that this success story is sustained for generations to come. One must remember that pundits have been trying to take over BOPEU leadership, using all kinds of methods and all those methods have failed. The methods failed because we the members of BOPEU refused to be sold a dummy. We insisted on the leadership of Comrade Motsamai because history was informing us of the future. And we have not been failed by our expectations. We have benefitted from our conscious actions and decisions to refuse a false prophecy calling by pundits.
But pundits now have an opportunity to take over. They may campaign for the next elective congress and take over BOPEU. We shall be watching and we shall remind them when the time comes that; leadership is not about planning a coup-de-tat, and that leadership is about planning for the future whilst taking care of the current. We shall as members continue to demand the best from the leadership and pundits must be willing to accept that sore truth. Let me close by wishing my leader Comrade Motsamai all the best in his future endeavors. He has served us, voluntarily and gave his all and I am amongst the thankful members of this visionary leader. He shall always be my leader. Long live Comrade Andrew Motsamai, long live! Long live BOPEU, long live!
Leader Thabo Keaipha
BOPEU Member – Moshupa