After months of speculation, four of the five Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) member unions have resolved to openly endorse the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) at the polls in two weeks (October 24).
The announcement will be followed by a hitlist of enemies of labour to be made public by the end of the week as the race for elections enters the last lap. Sources in BOFEPUSU confirmed Friday night that the list will be out anytime, but Tobokani Nicholas Rari-General Secretary, BOFEPUSU evasively said the timing is not yet right to release the list of enemies of the workers. Some of those expected to make the hitlist include Mokgweetsi Masis, Shaw Kgathi, Edwin Batshu
In a tense meeting at Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) offices on Thursday, which saw the president of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU)-Andrew Motsamai walk out in protest, the leaders of the four unions resolved that as agreed during the 2011 public sector strike they are going to support a united opposition. In a statement signed by Rari on Friday the federation said all affiliates except for BOPEU were in agreement that there is a valid and binding resolution which calls for BOFEPUSU to support the UDC. BOPEU were of the view that the congress of BOFEPUSU has never resolved to support the UDC, whilst the rest of the affiliates expressed the view that the conduct of the leadership of BOFEPUSU in assisting in the formation of UDC was consistent with such resolution. "The other four affiliates also resolved to continue to lobby, persuade and cajole BOPEU and Mogwera to refrain from engaging in any conduct that undermines the resolution," he said.
The federation's deputy secretary general Ketlhalefile Motshegwa and labour secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole have in recent weeks openly called on workers in the country to support the umbrella project as it is their brainchild. Motsamai is said to have strenously argued against the decision saying the federation and its trade unions should remain apolitical and not align themselves with any political party. However he was defeated in numbers as all the other leaders countered that he had failed to raise the same argument all along and had in fact been party to the decision. Further Motsamai actively participated in preliminary meetings convened by BOFEPUSU with all opposition parties where the proposal to form a united umbrella party to challenge the incumbent was hatched. His contention was that no resolution has been taken to that effect and therefore the trade unions were not bound to endorse any political entity, a position supported by BOFEPUSU president Masego Mogwera in a public statement last week. She said the issue of party affiliation was raised and extensively debated in several BOFEPUSU gatherings where it was resolved that the federation is not going to align with any political formation. "It was never a resolution of BOFEPUSU to support any political party, let alone UDC. This resolution was informed by the recognition that as a mass movement with a broad base of people coming from different political orientations, it was going to be difficult for BOFEPUSU to align with a political party without infringing on our members rights to associate with an organisation of their choice," she said.
She expressed concern that some union leaders 'traverse the length and breadth of the country misrepresenting the federation', saying no member of the central committee has been mandated to make such statements, which have the potential to destabilise the federation. She even denied the existence of a hitlist, despite that BOFEPUSU leadership has recently publicly promised to release the names of politicans whom they deem to be enemies of labour and encourage their members not to vote for them.
Motsamai is accused of turning soft on government in recent times, and in the process has been working on trying to destabilise the trade union movement. Motsamai's BOPEU has on numerous occasions fell out with the other BOFEPUSU members due to disagreement on some decisions among them calls for regime change by the labour movement. The deteriorating relationship between BOPEU and other BOFEPUSU leaders has forced the latter to pull out of UNIGEM, the federation's investment company. BOPEU is arguably the biggest trade union after manual workers, both in terms of membership and massive investment.
Motsamai confirmed participating in the meeting with Topias Marenga convened on reflection by some members of the BOFEPUSU Central Executive"CEC". Motsamai explains what transpired: "It was clear from the onset that the president of the federation and her deputy were absent including five (5) other members of the CEC. We confirm that, a procedural point was taken by the BOPEU delegation on the impropriety of convening a meeting to discuss a press statement made by the federation president in her absence. Besides the illegality of the meeting, it would have been uncharacteristic of us the allow an improperly constituted forum to discuss and decide a matter involving a member of the federation in her absence".
Motsamai further adds that they note with grave concern the growing indiscipline amongst some in the leadership of the federation. "We regret that comrades are working hard to split our formation over an issue which in essence is not our core mandate as trade unions. The image bashing and tarnishing of our leaders by comrades who appear not to have sufficient testosterone to convene a congress of the masses to resolve on a matter that threatens to reverse the gains we made as a collective is regrettable. We trust that our president is seasoned and stood for the union elections knowingly that at some point, she would be ridiculed, undermined and labelled. We stand by her side and confirm that her position with regard to the non- alignment of trade unions to any political party is meritorious. In any event we support as factual the averment made by the BOFUPUSU president in her press statement released recently, any comrade who so wish to challenge the veracity of same can do so by providing evidence to members," he said.
According to sources BOPEU's main gripe is that the endorsement decision is a policy issue and not just an matter for implementation which should be taken at a proper structure. A source within the union says there is disagreement between BOPEU and other leaders of BOFEPUSU over the running of the federation. "It would appear that they believe that the executive can take a decision and implement without consulting the general membership. But BOFEPUSU resolutions cannot made by executive, it has to be made at congress. If such a decision had been taken through a formal structure there wouldnt be any misunderstanding. BOPEU has taken a resolution at governing council and at congress not to align with any party
BCP campaign manager Thapelo Ndlovu said contradictory factional statements from BOFEPUSU do not scare them as they believe they have support in the workers because they are providing what they need. He said the different statements can only serve to confuse the nation. "We are focussed on the campaign. Our primary focus should be workers uniting.What is currently happening is unfrotunate. It would be regretable if BOFEPUSU is divided along factions as it clearly emerges," he said.
UDC spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa said it is natural that the unions would support the umbrella project because it is an initiative they started. "Cooperation of opposition parties was the brainchild of BOFEPUSU. We met on a number of occassions. Statements made at GSS grounds during the public sector strike and in different fora like the solidarity messages delivered at our congress by union leaders were clear that they support the united opposition. Even BCP officials are on record endorsing the opposing cooperation proposal," he said.
Mpho Balopi, the Botswana Democratic Party secretary general did not answer numerous calls to his phone while communications subcommittee chairman Mokgweetsi Masisi was unavailable at the time of going to print.