Tlhagale's firm grip on BMWU

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 08 May 2019   |   By Ricardo Kanono
Tlhagale Tlhagale

Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) President, Jack Tlhagale is preparing for life beyond his constitutional term as president of Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU), it has been alleged. Tlhagale is at an advanced stage of appointing himself Chief Executive Officer of Badirakhumo Investments, a newly formed business wing of BMWU.

The Patriot on Sunday has it on good authority that as the BMWU is preparing for an elective delegates congress which as per the constitutional dictates shall be held sometime in 2019, Jack Tlhagale who is not elligible to defend his position as the president, is already at an advanced stage of appointing himself the Chief Executive Officer of Badirakhumo Investments, which is a BMWU business wing.

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In October 2012, seemingly aware that he will eventually have to exit the leadership of BMWU, Tlhagale spearheaded the amendment of the constitution of BMWU with an Article that, the interests of BMWU includes to form an investment Holding Company, Proprietary Limited. The purpose of the holding company being to promote and establish investment ventures under the umbrella and control of BMWU Investment Holding Company such as savings and credit cooperative societies and funeral schemes for members, their dependents and staff members.  It was planned that in the long term the holding company will establish a commercial bank which will be under Badirakhumo Investments which Tlhagale is aligning himself to be the Chief Executive Officer of. The purpose of such an investment of the company extends to insurance schemes, retirement funds, medical and legal aids and ‘to do all other lawful acts, which are in the interest of the union and its members, which may not necessarily be provided for in the constitution”.

Concerned branches of BMWU who perceive this move mainly primarily at securing Tlhagale a job beyond his term argue that all services, aids, cooperative purposes and funeral schemes have long being served and continue to be served and it is unclear why all of a sudden complex scenarios are arising when Tlhagale has to exit the leadership of BMWU after serving 2 terms as Secretary General and 2 terms as President respectively. Tlhagale, who has been at the leadership helm of BMWU since 2004 initially as Secretary General and now as President, will complete his constitutional opportunities at the leadership of BMWU, 10 years of which he has been President.

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Tlhagale who has been unemployed since 2004 after being fired from Debswana Jwaneng Mine after an illfated strike that was pronounced illegal and resulted in 461 Debswana workers being fired has continued to be at the helm of BMWU despite the fact that he is not an employee of any mining company. Being not an employee of any mining company Tlhagale is thus not a member of any trade union affiliated to BMWU. Through a series of tactical approaches, Tlhagale has managed to outplay the fact that he is not an employee of any mining company and not a member of any trade union and held on to the leadership of BMWU. Tlhagale salary, not including monthly allowances such as housing, transport, mobility, medical aid, pension contribution is said to be over P48, 000.00. The management of BMWU, being President, Secretary General and Treasurer are responsible for determining salaries of staff and this includes their own salaries.

Of the eleven positions forming the Executive Committee of Botswana Mine Workers Union, three are full time positions which are salaried. These positions being; President, Secretary General and Treasurer. Tlhagale together with his Secretary General; Moffat Ramokate and his Treasurer General Kabo Ramatsipele are said to be amongst other tactics, skillful in isolating those who differ with them and those who question their stay at BMWU.  Moffat Ramokate is a former employee of BCL which was closed and is being liquidated. This then means that the Secretary General of BMWU, Ramokate is unemployed and thus not a member of any trade union affiliated to BMWU. On the other hand, is Kabo Ramatsipele, BMWU Treasurer General, a former employee of Debswana who long resigned from Debswana when Debswana refused to recognize his full time position at BMWU and hence him opting to choose BMWU over his employment at Debswana. Ramatsipele, though not an employee of any mining company and thus not a member of any trade union affiliated to BMWU, remains the Treasurer General of BMWU.

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This publication can reveal that amongst those questioning the happenings at BMWU are Jwaneng and Orapa branches. Amongst those isolated by the trio are Omponye Gababoloke, Alexander Heii, Ronald Boitshepo and Reagent Reed who are all members of the Executive Committee of Jwaneng Mine branch of BMWU. Orapa Mine branch also is questioning the goings-on at BMWU with Pame Mocheregwa, a once loyalist of the current regime having been isolated for questioning malpractices. Jwaneng and Orapa branches are specifically citing article 8.1 of the BMWU constitution that; membership of the union shall be open to all workers employed in the mining prospecting, quarrying, drilling, blasting energy and chemical sectors in the mines, ancillary services and allied works.

One of the members of a branch of BMWU speaking on condition of anonymity lamented that “Jack Tlhagale and his cronies are being paid to be on holiday, they are not employees of any company associated with mining, they are not members of any trade union affiliating to BMWU, yet they remain leading BMWU. This is very confusing, we are miners and it gets too difficult to grasp their explanations as to how they should be within our union yet outside the sphere of mining”. 

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This publication has gathered that within the mining industry, there is no knowledge of how a trade union should operate and Tlhagale has used this to his advantage with pushing for constitutional changes whenever threats to his existence at BMWU resurface.  What further complicates the situation is that the General Council that gets voted at elective congress is always new to trade unionism. This is a result of the companies that are sub contracted by Debswana and other mining companies not renewing contracts of employees associating themselves with union activism. This is one of the many loop holes that Tlhagale has used to sustain a one man show in the name of Botswana Mine Workers Union.

BMWU, which faces allegations that it has not been audited for about 20 years, owns several investments running into millions. Such investments are in properties and shareholding of various entities including a stake at Dikgang Publishing (who own Mmegi Group and CBET -Botswana Guardian and The Midweek Sun). What has made BMWU more dysfunctional to the advantage of Tlhagale is that out of the 11 members of the Executive Committee, 7 were former BCL employees and some were employees of companies that were sub contracted by BCL respectively. And thus the closure of BCL has rendered the Executive Committee dysfunctional as such people are no longer legible for BMWU membership. A member of the committee of one of the concerned branches expressed that “Tlhagale is keeping the unemployed who are effectively non-members in the structures of BMWU so that he can continue to use them and their vulnerability to keep power, continue earning a salary and planning on appointing himself the Chief Executive Officer of a company we do not even need”.

Union splits

Over the years BMWU NEC has always been heavily divided along factions.

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In 2014 BMWU suffered a major set back when artisans, engineers left en-masse to form their own National Engineering & Allied Workers Union (NEAWU).  The Patriot on Sunday uncovered information showing that as far back as 2012 engineers and artisans planned to break away from mine workers union. NEAWU was formed by Orapa branch, as a breakaway from mine workers union, and was registered with Registrar of Trade Unions/ Societies and has been seeking recognition from Debswana management.

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BCL closure

With its headquarters in the mining town of Selibe Phikwe, and drawing a large constituency of their members from the defunct BCL mine, BMWU suffered a huge blow in October 2016 when government closed down the mine. Numerous attempts by Tlhagale and his committee to engage government to win concessions for the close to 6 000 workers rendered jobless by the closure has drawn a nought. To date government has repeatedly told the former BCL workers that they are not entitled to terminal benefits because the mine was liquidated due to poor performance and crippling financial problems. 

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