Close observers and analysts in trade union politics already have a winner in next week’s election of the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) leadership. The incumbent President Andrew Motsamai is being challenged by his deputy, Sikalame Seitiso for the union’s presidency.
Observers, however, insist that Motsamai is poised to retain his seat having successfully used his incumbency to entrench himself. To most members whatever the leadership proposes and implements successfully, it is Motsamai who should get the praises. And there have been many achievements in the interim period from the last time they were elected.
Under Motsamai’s leadership BOPEU placed itself ahead of other unions as far as money making schemes and business enterprises within the union are concerned. BOPEU’s business wing Babereki Investments (Pty) Ltd was established as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the union and its vision is to become a very successful pan-African financial services Group by making key strategic investments in micro finance, insurance, asset management and ultimately in banking.
As the Director of the business wing, observers say, Motsamai is better placed to sail through the elections. This position, they say, gives him financial muscle to canvass for votes and influence delegates more efficiently than his rival. And under Motsamai while other unions appeared to have been losing membership, BOPEU has been growing in leaps and bounds. The latest development in which the Union has secured land and has offered members highly discounted rates to buy houses that the union is developing therein has clearly distinguished him as a person serving the interest of members well.
BOPEU’s business arrangement with banks (BancABC) and insurance bodies (Hollard) that give members services at discounted rate has also earned Motsamai a lot of support. Though he had initially signalled his interest to retire from union leadership, it is unclear what could have provoked him to seek another term. Attempts to get a comment from him were futile.
Meanwhile Seitiso, it is said, has the support of union traditionalists who feel Motsamai is hell bent on transforming BOPEU into a business enterprise while neglecting the union’s main mandate of fighting for favourable labour conditions for workers. Seitiso confirmed he was ready to take over BOPEU presidency from Motsamai. “Out of the six regions, I expect to get majority votes from four,” said Seitiso.
Seitiso strongly believes that change is very critical for BOPEU at the moment. According to him, the union leadership has needs to refocus and realign the union’s projects and programmes with its mandate, which is promoting the interests of its workers and protecting their rights. Asked whether he feels Motsamai’s regime has deviated from the union’s mandate, Seitiso said it has to a certain extent pushing the business side while neglecting the core political side of the union in the process.
“On a fair note, I must say, he has been doing that, but it is how he did that needs to be relooked at,” said Seitiso. He, however, spared no blows when asked if he thinks Motsamai still deserves another term in office. “Honestly he has done his part and done it well. I believe a leader must not lead, create a good legacy and then destroy it,” said Seitiso.
The soft-spoken unionist, who spoke highly of Motsamai, said he should step aside to allow new talent to take over the reins. “If I was him I would have surrendered to give others a chance. It does not make sense why he would want to hang on to the position of so long. Our constitution allows that one can step down and contest the position again in future, it does not necessarily have to be consecutively,” Seitiso said.
Responding to assertions that he shuns militancy and that his favour for dialogue may cost him votes, Seitiso said that militancy was only a tool used by unions to resolve a dispute and that the core mandate of unions should be to engage the employer. He, however, downplayed reports that there could be any animosity between him and Motsamai, saying their current rivalry was purely professional.
“We are not fighting and have never fought before. If he wins in the upcoming elections I will congratulate him and work with him peacefully for the benefit of the union,” he said. Meanwhile though recent reports suggested that the Botswana Federation of Public Workers Union (BOFEPUSU) was supporting Seitiso and canvassing support for him among delegates, BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa dismissed that as baseless and unfounded.
“One of our roles is to mobilise unions to form a solid block. So we cannot afford to be seen to be meddling in an autonomous body’s affairs,” said Motshegwa. He said BOFEPUSU believes that any candidate who shall be voted in by members is fit to lead and that there is nothing they can do to influence BOPEU elections.