There will be no love in the air on Valentine’s Day when the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions meet in an elective congress in Gaborone. The high stakes BOFEPUSU election will be conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) the same body that runs the country’s general election.
BOFEPUSU’s president Masego Mogwera said in an interview that they have already written a letter to IEC. BOFEPUSU is an umbrella body for five public sector unions that include Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities Workers Union (BLLAWU), Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and National Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatals Workers Union (NALCGPWU). However there were notable divisions in 2014 within the top leadership around the issue of whether to publicly declare their support for political parties or not as the country was preparing for the October general election.
Among the leadership there were those who publicly supported the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) while others, including its president Masego Mogwera, denied that the federation has agreed to back the UDC. In weeks prior to the election the BOPEPUSU leadership took their bickering to the media through paid adverts to clarify their stance on the issue of political affiliation. As the federation prepares for its elective congress next week Saturday sources say there is still notable lack of trust among the national office bearers. Mogwera is not defending her position after serving two terms. She told Botswana Guardian this week that she has done her part and it is time for someone else to lead the labour movement.
“I long indicated in 2012 that I would not contest for a third term,” she said. As cracks widened last year, Mogwera issued a press statement distancing the federation from political affiliation. But some of her colleagues ignored her calls and continued to address political rallies in support of the UDC. Veteran unionist Johnson Motshwarakgole who is also BOFEPUSU’s Labour Secretary addressed a number of UDC political rallies, urging government employees to vote the opposition party formed from a union of three political parties. After the election the UDC proposed in Parliament that Motshwarakgole be nominated as a Specially Elected Member of Parliament but the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) used its numerical advantage to select only from its own.
The divisions in BOFEPUSU according to sources have led to a lack of trust among the top union leaders and jostling for positions has started. “This will be a do or die congress. There is lack of trust among us,” said a source within the trade unions. Apparently there are those who want to push out veteran unionist Motshwarakgole whom they feel has allowed too much politics to cloud his judgment. It is not yet clear who will challenge Motswarakgole but a source has told this publication that a plan is being hatched to stop the veteran unionist from contesting by waving the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organisations Act on his face. The Act prevents employees of trade unions from contesting for union positions as they cease to become union members the moment they are employed by a union. Some elements within the Manual Workers’ Union apparently also want Motshwarakgole out.
Section 21 (3) of the Act states that; no employee of a trade union shall be admitted to membership of the trade union while sub-section 4 notes that; upon a member of a trade union becoming an employee of the trade union, he shall immediately cease to be a member of the trade union. Motshwarakgole is an employee of the Manual Workers’ Union and thus sources say he is not eligible to contest. Another BOFEPUSU member who is likely to be challenged is deputy secretary general Ketlhalefile Motshegwa and Samuael Molaodi who is BOFEPUSU secretary for education. Molaodi who is an employee of Manual Workers’ Union is also likely to be affected by Section 21 (3) of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organisations Act.
Should he contest he will face Carter Hikuama of BOSETU. Hikuama confirmed to this publication this week that he is vying for the position should he get the blessing of BOSETU’s Governing Council. BOSETU has proposed that Hikuama contest for the position while Tabokani Rari defends his position of secretary general. Sources from BOPEU have revealed that the union is vying for the positions of BOFEPUSU president and that of publicity secretary. The union will field its deputy president Sikalame Seitiso to challenge for the federation’s presidency. “We want strategic positions where we can have influence,” said a source from BOPEU this week. Last year BOPEU momentarily pulled out from BOFEPUSU but later rejoined the federation after settling their differences.
An insider this week noted that there are some within the union leadership who feel BOPEU is a sellout. But BOPEU on the other hand feels that some of the unions within BOFEPUSU have been hijacked by politicians and forgotten their core mandate of advocating for workers’ rights. “Trade unions’ core mandate is to fight for the workers’ conditions of services, but if you let politics cloud you, you will lose focus,” maintained Mogwera this week.