2015: Unions in tug of war

Kemoreilwe Jimson
Thursday, 07 January 2016
BOFEPUSU leadership addressing a press conference this week. BOFEPUSU leadership addressing a press conference this week.

The biggest bout this year in the labour movement has been between Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and their former mother body, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). 

Just like last year when the federation expressed its strong affection for the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), BOPEU has this year differed with BOFEPUSU at every turn. BOPEU says it was not necessary to be affiliated to a political party because there are issues that affect workers that need urgent attention.

At several press meetings that the federation addressed this year, BOPEU was always absent and there was no concrete explanation given. The writing was on the wall that the marriage between the two would eventually collapse. It was not surprising therefore when BOPEU delegates voted recently at Palapye to disaffiliate from the federation because it was not helpful.

“The leadership noted that during the negotiations of the 2015/16, BOPEU’s submission even though duly received was never considered by the mother body. In so doing, denying BOPEU an opportunity to represent its constituents,” BOPEU Secretary General Topias Marenga wrote.

He said that BOPEU leadership observed that there has been no attempt on the part of the current BOFEPUSU executive to address BOPEU’s concerns raised at the February 2015 BOFEPUSU congress relating to the unavailability of the audited books of account. But observers argue that the battle between the union and federation is not only limited to “unaudited books” but is also political. BOPEU which is slowly building its millions through a number of business schemes is viewed by some as a ‘sellout’ union which is supporting the ruling party. 

When BOPEU was involved in an industrial action over a pay-rise for its members at Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS), the federation chose not to offer solidarity support saying they were not invited. “They only wrote to every union but no official communication to the federation,” said the federation’s Secretary General, Tobokani Rari.

During the federation’s elective congress this year, both parties agreed that BOPEU would ascend to the presidency, but the leadership of the federation somersaulted at the last minute and settled for Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) President, Johannes Tshukudu. BOPEU withdrew their candidate from the election in protest. Two months down the line BOPEU wrote a letter to the federation to withdraw their monthly subscriptions.

Marenga wrote at the time that BOPEU was concerned by, “the simmering and unhealthy hostilities which continue to buildup unabated between the mother-body (BOFEPUSU) and BOPEU.”
Last month, during the BOPEU elective congress, BOFEPUSU allegedly sponsored BOPEU deputy president, Sikalame Seitiso to contest against Andrew Motsamai who they accused of masterminding the poisoned relationship between the two. Motsamai however emerged victorious.


The other fight that is far from over is between Botswana Landboard and Local Authorities Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) and their subsidiary, BLLAHWU Burial Society. The bone of contention is the control of the society’s millions. The union argues that the society is not independent, but a part of the union, but the society is having none of that and insists it is autonomous and must be left to run its affairs.

The battle between the two dates back to 2011 when the former union leader, Goretetse Kekgonegile wanted to assume the position of chairperson of the society acting on the precedent set by his former leader, Pelotshweu Baeng who was chairperson. The society was against this move and a legal tussle ensued with Kekgonegile losing in the end.

This year the union announced its plans to team up with the new insurer - BONA Life - to establish a similar funeral cover for 6100 members that are currently covered by BLLHAWU Burial Society. BBS was established under the Societies Act to provide an affordable funeral scheme for the union members. The annual turnover of the society is currently P8.6 million.

The society through their lawyers, Baoleki Attorneys has written to the Chief Executive Officer of Bona Life Insurance, Regina Sikalesele-Vaka regarding what they term the ‘misrepresentation and falsehoods” about BLLAHWU Burial Society products by the union.

The society has also threatened to approach the High Court on urgency if Bramer Life ignores the request by the union. The union lawyers, Moahi Attorneys responded by saying, the Central Executive Committee of the Union does not need the society’s consent to act howsoever in the interest of its members including in the present case.

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