The revolutionary in him will not let him take it lying down; friends and foes share this conviction about Ketlhalefile Motshegwa. As to who will stand by him through this all, only time will tell. STAFF WRITERS recognise that as things stand the labour movement and his union in particular have been left rattled.
The charges that ended his civil service career: Absence from duty without leave or reasonable excuse (20th August 2014 to 12th May 2015 - 181 days); and Wilful disobedience of lawful or reasonable orders given by the employer which related to his return to work.
When finding him guilty of the charges, the chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee that heard his case, Robert Rabasimane, concluded that after the expiry of the initial negotiated secondment, parties never negotiated any further extended secondment.
“Therefore the respondent’s failure to report for duty coupled with lack of agreement on extended secondment constituted continued absence from duty without authority. On this note alone I find the respondent guilty as charged,” said the chairperson.
Similarly, said Rabasimane, on the count of refusal to obey lawful and reasonable instructions he indicated to have examined and satisfied himself that indeed the instruction issued was both lawful and reasonable and that the employee failed to follow it and as such he is guilty as charged.
Given a chance to mitigate, Motshegwa found no reason since he insisted on his innocence. Together with his representative, Tobokani Rari they saw the hearing as a predetermined undertaking and hence had to arrive at the pre-set conclusion.
Observers are adamant that Motshegwa’s gesture when asked to mitigate was clearly indicative of a person who was preparing a legal challenge against any other outcome. Motshegwa confirmed that he was issued with a letter of dismal from public service by his employer on Friday. He, however, said BLLAHWU leadership intends to lodge a case against government based on this outcome. “The matter is not about me but the union. The secondment right is enjoyed by the union, and my dismissal is a total violation of its organisational right,” he said.
According to Motshegwa, his dismissal adds on to many other flaws subjected to the country’s democracy, principles of pluralism and civic rights by the government. “The government has a disdain for trade unions, our rights are under attack,” he said.
On the other hand despite insinuations of having been used those who know Rabasimane well maintain that he is a well experienced and well qualified professional who will not compromise on procedures.
Who is Motshegwa?
The name Ketlhalefile Motshegwa has become synonymous with trade unionism in Botswana, to an extent one cannot prise one from the other. He has become the face, voice and the epitome of working class struggles, but is barely 30.
His calm demeanour effectively camouflages the militancy and radicalism often displayed by aggressive trade union leaders like him. Motshegwa has alongside his immediate superior in the federation leadership -secretary general Tobokani Rari, become the most vocal and controversial trade unionists. He has never shied away from making bold statements critical of government, often stopping short of showing the employer the middle finger. He was there when public sector trade unions coalesced to form their own federation, and later an investment vehicle to be known as UNIGEM.
Born Ketlhalefile Modisa Ntwaagae Motshegwa in 1985, in Mmadinare the maverick trade unionist started elementary school at Mmadinare Primary School in 1991 before proceeding to Mowana CJSS in Mahalapye, and then Selebi Phikwe Senior School. He is the sixth child in a family of seven siblings (four men and three women). While at school he grew up as reputable high jumper and 100m runner. At junior school he was a member of the social studies club which developed his interest in issues of governance, leadership and history. At senior school one of the subjects he was passionate about was history and ultimately he joined history club. “I grew up in a middle class family that faced with certain livelihoods challenges. My father was a teacher and my mother took care of us as a housewife. They nonetheless gave us vision and love for life. When I grew up I used to find my brothers and sisters selling eggs from a bucket – a home chore I eventually joined as well as selling sour milk to raise funds for school. We used to walk long distances from Mmadinare to family lands in Mhatane, north of Mmadinare. When schools closed, it was customary that we will go to the cattle post and only come back a day before opening of school. I commenced my primary school in 1991, coming from the lands a day before opening of school,” he says.
After completing senior school he came to Gaborone to study at the University Of Botswana (UB) in 2003, pursuing Political Science and Public Administration degree. After graduating from UB in 2007 he joined Francistown City Council (FCC) in 2008 and it didn’t take long before he plunged himself into unionism – becoming a shop steward for Botswana Land boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU). In 2009, he became the chairperson of BLLAHWU Francistown branch, the second biggest branch in the union. The same year he became the first secretary of BOFEPUSU Francistown region. A year later he became the Secretary General of BLLAHWU, causing discomfort to veteran unionists who felt he was too young to be Secretary General of the union or even to hold a position in the Central Committee. “I told the veterans that it was all about ability and vision for the working class and not age. Against such a culture and practice I defined odds and contested and eventually won, possibly becoming the youngest Secretary General in the history of labour movement at the age of 25 years,” he says.
In 2011 he then became the deputy Secretary General of BOFEPUSU, a position he held up to this week. In the Industrial action of 2011, he became one of the leading lights of radicalising the struggle. He says his take was that the leadership then was too soft while members were energised and needed action to fight for their rights and justice. He takes up the narration: “This of course led me into confrontation with the leadership of the Federation and I was recalled from Gantsi region where I was operating. While I was in Gantsi, I told workers to up the struggle by any means necessary, and within two days more police officers were deployed to the area, including the senior cop who was commanding Gantsi jurisdiction. I then came back to join forces with Cde Pelotshweu Baeng and ended up having warrants of arrest issued against us. Baeng was arrested while in Gaborone and transported to Serowe while I handed myself to Serowe police”.
Motshegwa has also participated in international workers’ struggle such as in Swaziland, where at some point he addressed workers on strike. Before departure they called a press conference and lambasted the King of Swaziland, which triggered the government of King Mswati III to issue a warning that they will not be welcome in his Kingdom. “I then responded saying the King should not worry as we are not coming for his wives but rather coming to liberate our brothers and sisters in the working class struggle. I went with the then Secretary for International Relations Keaoleboga Dipogiso (now Deputy Secretary General of BLLAHWU), and we drove the whole night and slept at the South African/Swaziland border. When the border opened we washed our faces in the toilets and then crossed the border into King Mswati’s Kingdom”. In Swaziland they were accompanied by revolutionary called Victim Shongwe, who had been detained many times for standing up for the rights of people in Swaziland.
Explaining his never ending battles with the employer Motshegwa says, “I have had several encounters with the current regime or employer. It started in 2011 when government unilaterally withdrew organisational rights of union, and that included secondments. The matter was eventually won by the unions in court. Again in 2013 our secondment was withdrawn by then Director of DPSM Carter Morupisi as he alleged that we uttered some political statements. The matter was also won in court by the unions. In the run up to 2014 elections the employer withdrew payment of my salaries alleging that they were not privy to my whereabouts. I saw that as irrational because the employer knew very well that I am on secondment. I saw this move as politically motivated by the regime that is feeling the pressure of unions. The government opted to settle the matter out of court. Again this year on a similar situation I have been called for disciplinary hearing”.
His tussles and run-ins are not limited to the employer or government but have also been within his union, where some have tried to stage coups against him and smeared his name in some campaigns, but against all odds he is still standing tall and more inspired than yesterday.
“My take is that in this country there is a challenge of ideological clarity within Labour movement. We even have leaders within labour movement with neo-liberal orientations and whose agenda coincides with the current capitalist regime, which is soiled in nepotism, corruption, rising unemployment, violation of trade union rights and leadership that is unaccountable to the people. Government shuns social dialogue institutions that are supposed to enhance harmonious labour relations. Many work under poor conditions of service and welfare. These are the workers who are trapped under high costs of living and they are heavily indebted,” says the lanky trade unionist known among friends as FC.
Motshegwa says going forward there is need for serious labour education within labour movement for enhancement of working class consciousness and proper direction in nurturing and inculcating working class ideology in the minds of the workers. He posits that workers need to look up to themselves for their economic liberation and not look up to the employer or government. Workers need to understand that relations between employers and employees are inherently antagonistic, he says, quick to qualify that employers want to maximise profit by all means at the expense of rights and welfare of workers. “I also believe that workers need to vehemently fight neo-liberal policies propagated by international institutions such as World Bank and IMF. We need to fight policies such as privatisation of key resources and public services which if privatised will cause for life to be expensive for Batswana and also lead to loss of jobs. I take it that it is the responsibility of the Government to create more jobs, and jobs that have sustainability and decency, the kind of jobs that have social securities. I am of conclusion that the government is failing dismally on this task,” he says.