Intrigues and drama characterised last week’s Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) elections in Palapye, which culminated in Andrew Motsamai retaining his presidential seat amid strong challenge from Sikalame Seitiso. As one entered the Majestic Five Hotel in Palapye on Monday night, hashed voices could be heard in the parking lot. There was high tension with counter suspicions as delegates undertook last minute caucusing and campaign for the elections.
Last minute campaigning
On Tuesday morning it was clear that it was going to be one of the toughest elections in the union’s history. Political interests weighed heavily on the congress and its elections outcome. Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) and Botswana Federation of Trade Union (BFTU) enthusiasts watched and waited for the congress outcome with keen interest.
On the doors of Palapye International Convention Centre (PICC) were posters of all the contesting candidates. Delegates will pass by and read especially that of Seitei which raised lot of issues, especially with claims that there was corruption at BOPEU head office. During the official opening session, Motsamai and Seitei enjoyed the loudest acclaim when delegates were introduced. During tea and lunch breaks, the two leaders went on a charm offensive as they chatted up delegates to lure them to their side.
Things took a dramatic change when solidarity messages were delivered by sister unions. It became clear that BOFEPUSU was on the side of Seitei while BFTU endorsed Motsamai. Ahead of the elections claims had mounted that Seitei was funded by BOFEPUSU to challenge Motsamai to ensure that BOPEU would not leave the public sector union, an allegation which has been denied by BOFEPUSU.
A few weeks before the BOPEU congress, the public sector union stopped paying its monthly subscription – an early indication that they were on their way out. Botswana Sector of Educators Union (BOSETU) deputy President Mogomotsi Motshegwa called on BOPEU to guard against those who want the union to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU. The message tilted the delegates to the side of Seitei, who kept on smiling sitting next to his ally Masego Mogwera.
Kenosi tilts scales
And then it was Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) Secretary General Ibo Kenosi to take to the podium. He stunned his audience when he revealed some political chicanery within BOFEPUSU.
The outspoken BTU chief scribe hit out at BOFEPUSU for betraying BOPEU during the federation elections.
“It was agreed that BOPEU Vice President Sikalame Seitiso will become the president but were shocked when we were told that my president Johannes Tshukudu has now been nominated as the president of BOFEPUSU,” said Kenosi as delegates shouted ‘hula BTU hula (shoot BTU shoot)’.
He accused BOFEPUSU of not supporting BOPEU during the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) strike.
“When your friend has problem there is no need to ask him to write you a letter asking for your support, it is uncalled for,” said the militant BTU leader as the delegates erupted into songs. He said BTU was the only union that stood by BOPEU during the strike while others folded their arms on the sidelines.
Though one couldn’t make definite conclusion it was becoming clear that Kenosi’s pronouncements were sealing Seitiso’s fate, as he accused him of trying to divorce himself from collective decisions made during his tenure as Vice President. “Be careful of a leader who tries to divorce himself from collective responsibility when contesting elections,” said Kenosi to a thunderous applause capped with a standing ovation.
On Wednesday morning BOPEU was at crossroads as it had to vote whether to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU or stay and observers were adamant that the results were to determine who wins the presidency.BOPEU Secretary General Tobias Marenga set the tone by informing the delegates that they need to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU due to lack of accountability at the federation. Delegates voted to disaffiliate from BOFEPUSU.
When that was done delegates returned to the voting stations now to determine who to place their fate on between Motsamai and Seitei. First to bite the dust was Motsamai’s ally Tlotlang Bakoko as he fell on the sharp spear of Masego Mogwera who defeated him by garnering 220 to 145. Panic descended on Motsamai’s camp as Seitiso camp broke into songs of jubilations, believing that they were going for a landslide victory in the presidency. In the wee hours of Thursday morning the count for the president results started to trickle in and icy silence descended into the hall.
In the end Motsamai won by 220 while Seitiso garnered 145 votes. His fate was sealed, leaving Motsamai to soldier on at the helm of the country’s biggest public sector union. And now all eyes are on him to see how he intends to marshal the ship going forward – who will be his allies, how he will treat his adversaries and whether he is taking the union straight into the waiting embrace of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).