Contestants for Bulela Ditswe – primaries for Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – have intensified campaigns following a decision by the party central committee on Monday that elections will be held in January 2018. Of the 18 constituencies held by the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the BDP will hold primaries in 11 after seven agreed to field consensus candidates. These include Selibe-Phikwe West, Tlokweng, Gaborone North, Gaborone Central, Goodhope-Mabule, Gaborone Bonnington North and Kanye South. The upcoming primaries were originally scheduled for October 21 but had to be postponed to await the finalisation of voters' rolls by Tsholetsa House and a Court of Appeal (CoA) decision where the BDP and Government were challenging participation of civil servants in the process. Two weeks ago, five judges among them Judge President Ian Kirby, Justices Isaac Lesetedi, Monametsi Gaongalelwe, Zibani Makhwade and Singh Walia ruled that "political neutrality of the public service is a source of public confidence, and provisions designed to preserve this must be given their full effect". They concurred in the interpretation of Section 5(5) (b) of the Public Service Act (PSA) that it prohibits civil servants from voting in political party primary elections and that such prohibition does not amount to a restriction which infringes on their freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the Constitution of Botswana. Their view is that such participation amounts to political activism, which could be used to frustrate or undermine service delivery of a government of the day. But public servants' federation BOFEPUSU differ. They contend that the decision technically bars civil servants from joining political parties of their choice and make it nonsensical for them to continue holding such membership, as they cannot enjoy full participation like all other members in good standing. Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, argues that the Constitution bestows freedom of association on all citizens and therefore bona fide members should enjoy equal rights in an organisation they joined voluntarily. Denying public servants the right to participate in party primary elections amounts to denying them that Constitutional right, he insists. "Once citizens become members of political parties, which are voluntary organisations, they are regulated and are subject to constitutions of these organisations without discrimination on the basis of being public servants, businessmen or anything else," he said. According to Motshegwa, although it appears like trade unions lost at the CoA, the reality is that the BDP are the biggest losers because they have a section of membership who will going forward be barred from participating in inner party processes. In fact, court documents show that the issuance of a directive blocking civil servants from voting in Bulela Ditswe in November 2013 was precipitated by discovery of about 32 000 civil servants on the BDP voters roll. The Directive was issued by the then Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Eric Molale. In the recently decided appeal BDP deputy Secretary General Shaw Kgathi had filed an affidavit supporting incumbent PSP, Carter Morupisi, in the quest to block civil servants' participation in primaries. "What then would be the value of remaining members when they cannot enjoy full rights? They are secondary members who cannot enjoy the full rights as other members. The BDP is sending a strong message that they do not need civil servants as their members, therefore they should join other political parties because they cannot enjoy the benefits that come with their membership of the BDP," said Motshegwa.
Because of his long standing battles with public servants, Motshegwa singled out Molale as an historic and biggest liability for the BDP. He posits that the decision to block civil servants from voting in Bulela Ditswe was not done in the best interest of the party but to save Molale from punishment by them at the polls. He said the CoA decision is inconsequential and cannot derail their pursuit because what the BDP seems to forget is that even if civil servants do not vote in primaries they will still meet later in national elections. "It was just a postponement of his (Molale) predicament, unless as we are told, they plan to effect mass transfers of civil servants in Good Hope/Mabule constituency after screening to remove those who do not seem to support him. But when you transfer one civil servant you replace him/her with another. There is no civil servant who likes or will vote for Molale even if you transfer all, even outside Goodhope/Mabule," said Motshegwa. Under normal circumstances bona fide members of any organisation including civil servants who are members of political parties, just like membership of trade unions, should enjoy equal rights and opportunities, he said. Motshegwa challenged the BDP to explain what is so special about Molale, so much that everything is bent to accommodate him even as he is a clear liability. "The CoA decision does not help the BDP. It further alienates the party from civil servants who now realise that the BDP does not appreciate their membership," he said, cautioning that even though the BDP has a serious problem with public servants and politics they will never resolve this issue through court cases. Motshegwa said: "They must admit that all human beings have universal rights among them participation in political processes as enshrined in United Nations African Charter. If they do not appreciate this, they are going to make blunders that will cost them as a party and government. You cannot regulate politics by side-lining a section of the citizenry. They must accept that civil servants like other ordinary Batswana have a right to participate in politics".
Motshegwa has also expressed concern that opposition parties watched from the side-lines when trade unions fought Government in court to protect those freedoms and rights, despite claiming to pursue the same course. He said opposition parties should have joined the litigation as direct beneficiaries of the final decision and argued that if BDP does not want their civil servants members to vote in Bulela Ditswe they can prescribe the same in their constitution and allow other parties to make their own determination. The decision borders on dictating how inner processes of political organisations should be run, he said. The opposition finally crawled out of the shadows on Thursday, when UDC Labour Secretary Justin Hunyepa who doubles as Botswana National Front (BNF) Publicity Secretary accused the BDP for being cruel to workers. He said by succeeding in snatching, through the courts, civil servants' democratic and natural right to vote at political parties’ primary elections is a clear testimony of continued onslaught on civil servants by BDP. He said while the BDP is celebrating the ruling, UDC is saddened by such regressive development that takes away freedoms of civil servants. "This has become a BDP culture on the public service employees which comes from far. After the 2011 public service strike, the BDP-led government fired, without a blink of shame, thousands of employees from service. As if this was not enough, President Ian Khama described those who participated in the lawful and protected strike as unpatriotic and sadistically left them for the wolves. A systematic purging exercise was undertaken: employees were transferred, demoted, acting appointments cancelled and a general reign of terror was unleashed on civil servants," said Hunyepa. Enumerating other decisions which demonstrate an onslaught on workers, Hunyepa said the BDP-led Government continued with the violation of workers’ rights with the harassment of trade union leadership, deregistration of Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and other anti-labour practices and activities. He said the BDP-led government recently closed down the BCL mine under a cloud of lies, throwing some 6 000 workers into the streets, leading to more than 30 000 family members and other dependants directly affected. In another recent development, he said, some civil servants went home with no salaries as the BDP led government ruthlessly deducted controversially accumulated tax of back pays without even cautioning the struggling workers or making decent arrangement of payments if there was need to deduct. Some workers have not recovered since then, he complained."All these are a clear demonstration that the BDP is against both the public and private sector workers, and does not value them. The recent BDP public statements that they support workers is just an insult to the workers who have created so much wealth for this country but got the worst ever treatment from the BDP led government. The united opposition therefore invite everyone, including public servants to the membership of UDC. We urge and encourage those who have been with the BDP to discard the party that treats them as secondary members and second class citizens," said Hunyepa, bragging about UDC's policies and the Social Democratic Programme (SDP), promising to respect workers’ rights, comply with international labour standards, improve conditions of service and welfare and uphold social dialogue structures, among others, the Bargaining Council.
If public officers are permitted to attend meetings solely reserved for political party members it is difficult to see how the PSP or his office would be able to properly regulate the limits of their participation at such meetings, without intrusion into the space of such political parties, said Justice Lesetedi. There is nothing in the wording of general orders which can reasonably be said to permit participation in political party primary elections, he added. Lesetedi concluded that it is perhaps with the realisation that with respect to public officers there is a need entitling Parliament to limit the rights of freedom of expression and association of public officers due to the peculiar role they play in the running of the state and service to the public at large, that the Constitution so provided. The pronouncement is music to the ears of prominent BDP politicians holding power in Government, particularly cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament, who are targeted by trade unions for decampaigning. In 2013 Bulela Ditswe, about 10 sitting cabinet ministers had their political career brought to a painful end when they lost to ordinary party members. The losses were attributed to disgruntled civil servants. Such trend continued in the 2014 general elections when the BDP popular voter dropping to just 47% for the first time in history. Sensing a repeat of 2013, the BDP Government pursued litigation to block civil servants from voting in primary elections, saying it amounts to political activism and participation in partisan politics in violation of Section 5(5) (b) of the Public Service Act and the General Orders.
The judgment that outlaws voting in party primary elections by civil servants has once again revived heavy criticism on some judges by BOFEPUSU leaders. Asked if they are unhappy with the court decision simply because it does not favour them, BOFEPUSU labour secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole said although they appreciate that in litigation they could either lose or win cases, there is a trend where trade unions lose most cases decided by judge President of the CoA Ian Kirby. He said it was therefore not surprising that a panel of judges that included Kirby blocked public servants from voting despite that they are BDP members, and have been voting in primary elections to screen leadership from grassroots level all the way to general elections. If the court is right in its interpretation of the PSA, Motshwarakgole suggests that it is now upon Government to cause amendment to the Act, together with other contested statutes like the Trade Disputes Act to align them with ILO Conventions, which the country has ratified. He cited delays in delivering judgment on an appeal against the scope of the PSBC heard by a panel of judges led by Kirby, which has been overtaken by other decisions in cases that came after, as a clear indication of his reluctance to have the matter put to rest. Motshwarakgole said although BOFEPUSU won the scope case at the high court before judge Tshepo Motswagole, it was shocking when a whole CoA judge Monametsi Gaongalelwe descended to the lower court to hear and interlocutory application and order a stay of the decision of a matter still live before another judge. This demonstrates how some judges are hell-bent on destroying their cases, he said.
Be bold, Masisi told
Motshwarakgole cautioned that Batswana should take leaf from developments in Zimbabwe and guard against being ruled by armed forces from behind the scenes. His comment is a response to reports that Khama has indicated that he will not be lost to the BDP where there are suggestions that he could seek re-election as Chairman or return to Botswana Defence Force (BDF) where he resigned the position of Commander to join politics. There are widespread allegations that Masisi's presidency will only be temporary, to pave the way for Khama's younger brother Tshekedi. "Khama should relinquish power and retire to his home. He should hand over keys to public assets including helicopters and caves. The state will take care of him. Like his predecessors, Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, Khama should not be allowed to continue making decisions after retirement. Masisi should not allow himself to be a puppet controlled by forces from behind the scenes," said Motswarakgole, urging Batswana to pay special attention to Masisi's utterances on his first day in the office on April 1. He said Masisi should demonstrate independence of mind and should start now. To this end, he said Masisi should appoint his preferred vice president without fear, as all his predecessors. "Batswana are watching him and will support him. The BDP should also support Masisi to be a good leader. We are saying these things to pre-empt any future developments," he said.