I have argued before on this column, as I still do so here and now, that the reason why Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has always dodged the last fatal bullet of losing political power in recent years is because while it has luckily done so, it has failed to do a proper risk assessment exercise. If it has done so (and nothing suggests it), it has failed to take all the necessary measures to mitigate against the recurrence of threat of the fatal bullet. The threat of losing power still looms large on the horizon notwithstanding the shambolic state of opposition parties who should be the originator of such threat. If the opposition got its act together, the threat would even be more palpable. The BDP knows this. In a desperate endeavour to minimise and not eradicate the threat, the BDP is reportedly courting Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). This is an exercise in futility given that the BDP and BOFEPUSU are poles apart to find some semblance of convergence at least for now. The current status quo of hostilities between the two is the case in point. If we conducted a paternity test on the two, there will be no slightest shred of evidence connecting them. The point I am making is that for the BDP to even think of wooing BOFEPUSU, it must convincingly and honestly show all and sundry that it is a party committed to, as a bare minimum, upholding without reservations ILO Conventions it has ratified and domesticated. The Mmegi newspaper dated 29 September 2017 ran a front page story titled ‘BDP woos BOFEPUSU’. Attached to this story, the newspaper further stated that “As opposition parties squander the gains they made in 2014, the Botswana Democratic Party is mending fences with BOFEPUSU and has already met the trade union to discuss the differences”. The BDP, it would appear, is trying to take full advantage of the turmoil in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). And why not, one may ask given the perceived or real importance of the voting bloc controlled by BOFEPUSU to the 2019 general election. As if that was not enough, the Botswana Guardian newspaper dated 6 October 2017 carried a headline story “Govt. plans to kill Bargaining Council”. In the same story and with reference to the amendment of the Public Service Act, it reported that “Public Service Act amendment empowers President to interfere with administration of the Public Service; Minister empowered to decree 10% overtime allowance; PSP to appoint Secretary to PSBC from employees of Directorate of Public Service Management; Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act also being amended to prescribe who should lead Unions”. These are chilling amendments in the present day Botswana! This it must be said, is at best a complete and suicidal departure from bargaining in good faith and at worst a demonstration that the party will conduct labour relations in Botswana with such impunity. Would any trade union federation even how poor it may be, agree to the above? In its 2013 May Day message, BOFEPUSU declared that “Maximum protection of workers’ agenda is part of the national politics”. Any ruling party will be so uncomfortable with such a statement because politicians will do anything and everything to get workers’ vote and subsequently tell them that politics is exclusively for them. BOFEPUSU has since its founding been a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the BDP, hence the need to woo it in an endeavour to ‘tame’ it.
The current BDP administration is known for its anti-workers stance on a variety of issues, directly or indirectly. The current stand-off between the BDP and BOFEPUSU was largely precipitated by the public servants’ strike of 2011 from which most, if not all grievances, have not been adequately resolved – hence the continued frosty industrial relations between them. Botswana is considered and rightly so, a country that is anti-workers as it emerged at the International Labour Conference in Geneva recently. The utterances of the present Minister responsible for labour have confirmed these stances. We have become a country where trade unions are expected to be, in trade union language, sweetheart trade unions. While the BDP is wooing BOFEPUSU on one hand, it is on the other vigorously disenfranchising its members in particular and others in general in participating in participatory democracy in the form of Bulela ditswe. This approach and conduct, to put it bluntly, is bad faith in the extreme spiced by political expediency. The BDP is dangling an unattractive carrot at BOFEPUSU with the hope that the latter will grab it. The latter looks less interested. But they say you can fool some people but not always. I have always argued, which I still do, that for the BDP to renew and re-engineer itself in preparation of 2019, it must seriously look itself in the mirror and reverse the negative processes and procedures which have caused its popular vote to decline so dramatically and significantly. The golden opportunity to start doing so would be to withdraw the current case in court which by implication would suggest to all and sundry that the BDP takes civil servants very seriously as an important voting bloc and stakeholder in the preservation of labour relations and meaningful democracy. I have struggled to understand the rationale between barring civil servants’ involvement in participating in political party Bulela ditswe and allowing them to vote in national elections. The BDP should explain why civil servants, some of whom are its registered members should vote for candidates in the national election that which they did not vote for at the Bulela ditswe stage. If we were to examine the list of delegates at the recent BDP congress for example, we may find that a good number were civil servants who participated in the election of the current executive committee. Double standards cannot be used where civil servants participation in one set of party processes suit politicians and emasculated where such politicians feel threatened to lose political office. There is an argument out there that BDP politicians whose political careers may be under real threat are the ones at the forefront of stopping civil servants’ participation in Bulela ditswe. This is an attractive argument one is tempted to agree with as I hereby do. The passion and resilience of pursuing this matter at the highest court in the land firmly confirms this argument.