Battle lines have been drawn, with Palapye set as the battlefield where Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) delegates will convene in five weeks to witness a bare knuckled fight when Deputy President Segolame Seitiso steps forward to wrestle the presidency from Andrew Motsamai.
While Motsamai fears publicly discussing plans for re-election, Seitiso stops short of accusing him of mismanaging and looting the trade union resources and openly declares that he wants to change that by taking over. Seitiso said he is motivated to contest the elections in order to restore order in BOPEU which is caused by mismanagement of the resources taking place under the current president. “I cannot just sit and watch BOPEU resources being mismanaged. So my aim is to bring order to the union. I have been here for nine years and I know what I am talking about,” said Seitiso, refusing to state what mismanagement is taking place at BOPEU.
He acknowledged that BOPEU has achieved a lot under the current leadership, but added that it is high time a new leader is brought in who will drive the union to greater heights. Seitiso, who was BOFEPUSU chief salary negotiator in 2012, is confident that he is the right person to steer the BOPEU ship to calm waters. Although he declined to state his lobby list, this publication is reliably informed that Masego Mogwera who is also the deputy Vice president will be Seitiso’s running mate. He dismissed allegations that his campaign is sponsored by BOFEPUSU, claiming that he has never met the federation leaders.
“How can they sponsor me when they don’t even vote at our elections? I am not even close to any of BOFEPUSU leaders,” said Seitiso, adding that it is up to congress to decide whether BOPEU reconciles with BOFEPUSU or leaves to join BFTU. “One of the reasons we fell out with BOFEPUSU leadership is that they failed to account to some issues we were asking about and unless they do that our relationship will not work,” said Seitiso.
But Motsamai will be no pushover, and will draw from his incumbency and circle of friends to parry any advances by his detractors. Motsamai’s campaign recently received a major boost when four out of six BOPEU regions endorsed the proposal to open talks with Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) as they feel their relationship with BOFEPUSU is not working. Motsamai said in an interview that the two regions that did not vote were not necessarily against joining BFTU but wanted the resolution to be taken at the congress. Asked about his campaign for re-election, Motsamai said union elections are internal matters and declined to share his plans.
Motsamai, who has never been challenged in the presidency since election nine years ago, is said to have lost his clout and favour among BOPEU members for openly frolicking with the employer and breaking away from other public sector unions. At height of the infamous 2011 public sector strike, which saw government firing over 2000 public servants mostly from the health sector after being declared essential, Motsamai is said to have had access to BDP leadership who were refusing to meet the federation leaders. BOFEPUSU leadership led by its Labour Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole then impeached Motsamai as Secretary General of the federation as punishment for his relationship with the "enemy of the workers". They could no longer trust him. From then on, the die was cast.
The next casualty in the break-up of a love affair - which saw BOPEU and Motshwarakgole's Manual Workers Union form BOFEPUSU and set up its investment company UNIGEM - was the BOPEU withdrawal from the company. To justify the withdrawal Motsamai claimed that UNIGEM was heavily indebted and its financial projections painted a gloomy picture despite that the company was the Administrator of a P500 million worth GEMVAS contract. Soon after BOPEU withdrew from the trade union company government refused to renew the GEMVAS contract, which expired at the end of May 2015. Recently Motsamai tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to withdraw BOPEU from the membership of BOFEPUSU. He has already written to the federation notifying other trade unions of their intention to withdraw membership by stopping payment of monthly subscriptions, citing lack of accounting.
To add to his woes, Motsamai's relationship with his blue-eyed-boy-BOPEU secretary general
Topias Marenga - is said to be strained. It is alleged that Marenga feels that he has remained in Motsamai's shadow despite holding a position which wields a lot of power in the union structures. Ever since appointing him as a full time secretary general, Motsamai has kept a tight leash on Marenga and on many occasions used him as an errand boy to fight battles on his behalf, particularly against sworn enemies at BOFEPUSU. Consequently Marenga has been attending all meetings in fora that included other trade unions, to avoid Motsamai crossing path with those he differed with at BOFEPUSU. Although most of the statements emanating from BOPEU attacking other members of the federation for decisions they made were signed by Marenga sources close to the developments said they were the creation of his president. Now Marenga wants out. The federation has, however, distanced itself from the goings-on at BOPEU. "We would like to make it succinctly clear to the general public and more especially to the leadership, all structures and the general membership of BOPEU that BOFEPUSU has no interest and business in interfering and influencing the outcome of the elections of BOPEU leadership," said Secretary General Tobokani Rari.
Mid-last year Motsamai sparred in a heated public spat against other trade union leaders in the federation over the theme for the 2014 Labour Day commemoration, which called for regime change. Insiders in the trade union movement claim that Motsamai is used as a pawn to destabilise and cripple BOFEPUSU, which has gained a lot of power in recent years. The federation has successfully sued the BDP-led government on many occasions since formation.
In a move which buttressed suspicion that Motsamai was enjoying a cosy relationship with the employer President Ian Khama officiated at the BOPEU conference in November last year at the invitation of the former. Khama has repeatedly refused to meet trade union leaders and has publicly accused them of being unpatriotic and trying to make the country ungovernable. Motsamai justified the invitation, saying they want to build a good relationship with the employer - Khama's government. In upcoming elective congress Leader of Opposition and President of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko will present a position paper among other dignitaries including the Minister for Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu. The congress will be opened by former COSATU secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi.
Lately Motsamai's relationship with government has been at its lowest ebb. He has openly criticised government and hosted the leadership of the opposition UDC in a meet and greet session. Some observe that the recent change of attitude by Motsamai, when he started attacking government over his union's standoff with Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) over salary increment was motivated by the upcoming elective congress. At the height of the BURS strike, Motsamai's BOPEU sponsored numerous advertisement in local media criticising BURS management and government over refusal to award their members employed in the parastatal a 11% salary increment. BURS management insists that the organisation, which recently collected over P37 billion in tax - way above their target - does not have funds to accommodate such a salary hike but can only offer 6% as per public service increment announced by government for 2014/15 financial year.