It is a make or break moment for Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) as they descend on Palapye on Sunday to elect new leaders. Long time buddies, BOPEU President, Andrew Motsamai and his first president, Sikalame Seitiso take on each other in the battle to lead one of the country’s leading public sector unions. The former close allies now turned enemies have been working together for the past nine years. Motsamai is the last president of Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA) before it unionised. Since the transformation of the association to a union nine years ago the two have been working together in their current portfolios.
So who between the two men, who have worked tirelessly together to turn the fortune of the union around will emerge bruised when the results are announced on Wednesday? Both men have deployed their loyalists to canvass votes for them across the country. At least 400 delegates will decide who the best man to take the top seat between Seitiso and Motsamai is. Botswana Guardian has found that the battle will be hard fought. Both men have on various quarters proved their leadership mettle and worth for the union’s members. Motsamai has managed to focus his energy on making the union not only an advocacy platform for workers, but has also turned the union into an investment hub. Government employees who are members of the union now have access to various opportunities such as empowerment schemes and of late the housing scheme where the union will build houses for the members to purchase at a reasonable rate. He has been able to take bold decisions for the benefit of the union.
All things being equal, Motsamai is said to have also rubbed other members within the union the wrong way. These members have been against some of the decisions he has made, arguing that they were against congress resolution. They said that the union is focusing on establishing itself as a business rather than advocating for the welfare of members. “Currently our union is now competing with the business commodity and has forgotten their mandate. Every report we see is about the investment of the union, but there are currently lots of issues that are affecting workers the union is dragging its feet,” said one delegate who supports Seitiso.
He expects the union to be at the forefront of workers’ welfare issues like it is doing under Babereki Investments. “Trade Dispute and Public Service Acts are going to be reviewed but our union is mum on the issue. Yet it is their mandate to tell us as members what are the implications for reviewing the two Acts. Clearly our current President has lost it and it is the best time for him to go and let Seitiso lead us,” he said. Yet others have questioned the rationale for Seitiso to challenge Motsamai, wondering further if he will manage to topple his leader, who has firmly entrenched himself among the union’s members. But his protagonists argue that Seitiso’s strength has not been exposed as he lives in the shadows of his president. They say he is a worthy alternative to Motsamai, especially in light of the fact that some of the positive developments that continue to benefit the union membership were his ideas. Seitiso was expected to take over from Motsamai after the latter voluntarily stepped down as he had promised in the previous election.
Seitiso’s non-militancy and his belief in dialogue in handling issues are projected as one of the weaknesses that might cost him the union’s lucrative post. Currently Seitiso is enjoying support from regions such as SHAGUMAGWE, FRAKMATS but the biggest region Central, has thrown its weight behind Motsamai while Rotlhe region, which includes Gaborone, is divided in opinion between the two unionists. Motsamai is thought to have a head start because most of delegates are his followers. “The problem for Seitiso is that his delegates are fewer than Motsamai’s even though he enjoys support from members. Those who were selected as delegates for the congress are Motsamai’s supporters,” said an insider.
The BOFEPUSU factor
Insiders say the leadership of the mother body, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) is supporting Seitiso because they blame Motsamai for the fallout between the federation and BOPEU. Ever since last year the relationship between the two has deteriorated culminating in an exchange of harsh words. BOPEU has now suspended their subscription to the federation. The final decision concerning the subscription is expected to be taken by the congress through a resolution.
The federation has accused BOPEU under Motsamai’s leadership for failing to attend the federation’s scheduled meetings without any valid reasons. Some affiliates of the federation especially the Manual Workers Union have spoken publicly against Motsamai’s leadership style. Manual Workers Union has accused Motsamai of “betraying” public servants on numerous occasions by ‘sleeping’ with the employer. Some of the Manual Workers Union leadership forms part of the federation’s leadership. Recently the federation came out guns blazing that they are not interested in the BOPEU elective congress. “The initial proposal of the federation was that Masego Mogwera was going to challenge Motsamai but she declined. That is why they settled for Seitiso. Numerous meetings have been ongoing to figure out how to topple Motsamai and they are confident that Seitiso is going to win,” said the source.
There is another school of thought that Motsamai is not a wanted man because he wants the union to go back to Botswana Federations of Trade Unions (BFTU). He is currently appointed in the Labour Advisory Board as the representative of BFTU, which expires in March 2018. The board is chaired by Botsweletse Sebele. BOPEU has been instrumental in advocating for BOFEPUSU and BFTU to form one federation. BOPEU is currently said to be in talks with BFTU to affiliate to the latter, with Motsamai said to be the mastermind.
Francistown High Court Judge, Lot Moroka will officially open the BOPEU National Elective Congress while former Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Secretary General ZwelinzimaVavi, Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) President Duma Boko are expected to make presentations on labour laws in Botswana.