I am petrified at the developments I hear. Back then in the civil service my boss told me that; a dozen wise men can be more easily wiped out than a hundred fools. I will leave it to the reader to digest. Unfortunately, many of those who judge BOPEU are outsiders, who do not know the subject, who do not realise that today the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries has already scored a complete victory. That victory would have been impossible if this idea had not been pushed to the forefront at the time, if we had not “exaggerated” so as to drive it home to people who were trying to prevent it from being realised. It was never about his hat, his stylish jacket and his glass of wine.
Though unconfirmed, reports suggest that Comrade Andrew Motsamai is leaving BOPEU and Babereki Investments; he leaves us with a list of ingredients, but not the finished cake. This is the legacy of Comrade Andrew Motsamai. The next phase will be how to sustain the organisation moving forward. We have to task to ask ourselves questions, and to ask our leadership questions. We have overtime asked where BOPEU is getting money to build these luxurious offices around the country and the answer has always been presented that we are doing so through loans from banks and servicing such loans through our investments at Babereki Investments. I am worried at this development; this essentially means that to sustain BOPEU in its current format equally in measure means that above all we need to first sustain Babereki Investments. Having been one of those who have supported Comrade Motsamai throughout his tenure at BOCRA, BOPEU and Babereki Investments, I am likely to be considered biased. But mine is just an opinion. If I don’t air this opinion, a lot of heap might go unchallenged and end up being considered truth whilst in fact it is cooked manure.
When there was an unwilling or some sort of inability to change the view of economic trade unionisms because of tradition or convention, Comrade Motsamai took a personal sacrifice for the collective to embark on working to change the hidebound corporate cultures that trade unionism cannot heavily be present in the local Botswana business landscape. This as we warned back then was to come with its own difficulties of handling problems of new interested parties; the business world and its shrewd players as is the nature of Botswana. Comrades will recall that Comrade Andrew Motsamai only became a fulltime employee of Babereki Investments this year in February. He had all along, for more than a decade been leading BOPEU as its president and being the Chairman of Babereki Investment from his tiny classroom at the Institute of Health Sciences in Gaborone where he was a lecture. All what we have at BOPEU and Babereki was accumulated by a man running from a lecture room.
I can’t go on much about history. We are already in this phase of economic emancipation. And if this legacy of Comrade Motsamai is not sustained after his departure, the ossification will not just end there. It will be the relegation of BOPEU to a dumping side. Unless we find a new culture of doing things which we are not accustomed to since our transformation from BOCRA to BOPEU under Comrade Motsamai’s leadership. Supposing we will fit into a new culture. But before we proceed with how we move forward post Comrade Motsamai, we ought to first have to be honest about our past and the immense contribution of Comrade Motsamai to what is now known as BOPEU and what is now our commercial wing. In vilifying him, we must remember that throughout the history of his leadership at both organisations, he survived the odds. It was during a time which a resolute struggle was conducted against every kind of medieval rubbish in the trade union industry. That workers should be dependent on foreign banks for economic cushioning. He went against serfdom in institutions and ideas that had kept us economic slaves. And in all these dissenting voices were growing against him. The dissenting voice grow when something is being done, good or bad. And in this case good was being done. Had nothing been done, there would have been no dissenting voices. I argue that dissenting voices are a sign of growth in leadership of an individual and that of the institution and thus healthy.
Comrade Motsamai built Babereki to be the only economic super power in Botswana wholly in the hands of indigenous Batswana. This is the only big business that is not owned by foreigners or naturalised people. I am one of those members of BOPEU who prides himself with this simple arithmetic. My gut tells me that the enemies of democratic and economic growth of both Babereki Investments and BOPEU have, therefore, always exerted all their efforts to undermine his leadership. In the process, they had totally forgot that the organisations ought to be sustained for the betterment of the lives of the working class, and economic emancipation. Comrade Motsamai’s leadership has throughout his tenure defended the concept of cushioning members of BOPEU from the hardships of the banking interest rates in a determined manner and repeatedly explained how profoundly erroneous is every deviation from this basis. I am one of those proponents of keeping trade unionism and partisan politics separated. Some scholars have identified that political parties, ruling or opposing, are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political manifestos serve to strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. We can’t then as a trade unionism movement be expected to be oblivious to the facts to a point of letting ourselves be at the mercy of the capitalistic system. Where the bourgeois political rulers saw a relation between things, the exchange of one commodity for another, Comrade Motsamai’s leadership revealed a relation between people. It was the only thing we had; our strength in numbers and it was this numbers that our leadership to bargain and invest for BOPEU members.
People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics. And they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes. In the case of BOPEU and Babereki Investments, the issue was always going to be competing interests of people wanting to do business with the two organisations and finding allies within to push out their “obstacles”. The old order does not like all these. They want all that we have worked for including our savings and our investments. The old order has a way of dipping its hand in everything the working class invests in and they do these by capturing our own comrades to get rid of “obstacles” and we have warned Comrade Motsamai that he was this “obstacle”.
It shall not end with Comrade Motsamai; it is a business culture and shall be our culture moving forward until they rid us of our investment arm. It was only beginning with Comrade Motsamai as it had to begin with someone. And it will end only when Babereki Investments has been taken over by those bourgeoisie classes fighting to take it over. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of the capitalist bourgeoisies, and that is to find, in the very comrades which surrounds us, the forces which can and, owing to their social position, must constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old behaviours and sustaining the created new behaviour, and to enlighten and organise those working class forces for the struggle that lay ahead. Comrades can take a back seat and celebrate Comrade Motsamai’s downfall, but very sooner than later all comrades will be faced with the hard truth. We will realise that he was made the fall guy and that the problem remains within. The next question we ought to pose to ourselves as members of BOPEU is; given this situation, supposing we are in agreement with the sob stories we are being sold by the leadership of BOPEU, what is to be done? The basic mistake made by those who now criticise what has been done to ensure the economic standpoint of BOPEU is to divorce it from the leadership of Comrade Motsamai. In treating the economic cushioning and gains of BOPEU members apart from our connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now endangered Babereki Investment has been a mistake. This mistake has been to identify that every human being given an opportunity to lead, and now in the case of Comrade Motsamai, is bound to err. Comrade Motsamai has led BOPEU for more than a decade. Surely you can’t lead for more than a decade and not step on some people’s toes and in his case he has stepped toes within our own union and forces outside the union.
This mistake was strikingly demonstrated, for instance, by those who exaggerated his supreme being in making investment decisions. Babereki Investment as we know it is a conglomerate of companies that have their own boards of directors and all resolutions from these many companies are made by such boards of directors. Babereki Investment board for an example will not make a resolution for Babereki Kalerato, a funeral service scheme which is a totally different board from Babereki Investments. I am not privy to much detail. But my basic understanding, reading from media reports about cars being bought from avis by Babereki Kalerato Funerals is that such will have been a resolution of Babereki Kalerato Funerals. This company has an independent board of directors chaired by our Vice President, Martin Gabobake and not Comrade Motsamai. Thus shifting the gears and blaming Comrade Motsamai when it suits us is what they call selective justice.
From where I am standing today, these allegations are ridiculous. As if their fabricators want to dismiss a whole period in the development of our investment wing. To dismiss gains which, in their time, had to be fought for. But which have long ago been consolidated and have served their purpose. Now with various delegated authorities who have now failed their roles have found a scapegoat in Comrade Motsamai. It is definite that such people will continue to view us who are sceptical of these allegations and their intentions as their enemies or enemies of the organisation. But I wish to remind them that their tenure in office shall end and our tenures as members are as long lasting as our jobs with the public service and we shall continue to scrutinise. The history of trade unionism is rich with examples we may refer to.
Another question arises as to who accomplished, who brought into being this superior trade union that is the envy of so many who wish to lead it and enjoy the colourful rainfall, solidarity, and stability? It was accomplished by the progressive resilience of professional revolutionaries, of which Comrade Motsamai made the greatest contribution. Anyone who knows our union’s history well, anyone who has had a hand in building the Union of Choice, has but to glance at the delegate list of any of the groups at, say, the Palapye congress of 2015. In order to be convinced of this and notice at once that it is a list of the old membership, the central core that had worked hardest of all to build up the union and make it what it is. Then one has to observe the loudest voices in shouting at people who have built this union; it is the new breed that arrived when the honeybees have been removed from the honey. This is the same breed whose only interest is enjoying a lavish lifestyle of international trips, trotting the world with our subscriptions and bringing no results for these spending.
The only thing that has been coming out of BOPEU for Babereki Investments since Comrade Motsamai left the Presidency has been that there is no money for bursary funds, personal loans etc. We should not try to behave as if in all these ‘there is no money’ rhetoric we witnessed more international trips being undertaken than ever before. We are aware that it has been a lavish lifestyle of per-diem, five star hotels, and business class flights and yet we the members were repeatedly told there is no money. It was a given that in a very short period of time they will start fighting about these lavish lifestyle matters and shift blame. They have taken the blame to Comrade Motsamai who left BOPEU for Babereki Investment in February. We are now told BOPEU is now as broke as hell and hence the fight for control of Babereki Investments, where our savings are being managed. Stage-managing meetings to shift blame will not erase facts. Besides, Comrade Motsamai just recently came in as an employee of Babereki when all these products, funerals, loans, insurance have been launched. Where are the officers who have been doing all these? Where is the CEO? Basically, of course, the economic success of BOPEU was due to the fact that the old working class, whose best representatives built Babereki Investments, for objective economic reasons possessed a greater capacity for organising workers than any other trade union in Botswana. Without this condition, an organisation of professional revolutionaries would be nothing more than a plaything, an adventure, a mere signboard. We should not allow the significance of the gains already won be shaken by belated complaints that the ambitions of the Union of Choice were exaggerated by those who at that time had to fight to ensure the correct way of accomplishing these tasks.
Yes, like any other leader, Comrade Motsamai had his own circle that provided guidance. Some came with good faith and some came only to profit from the union. It is the weakness of humanity. But it is not enough to condemn the old circle spirit. Its significance in the special circumstances of the past period must be understood. The circles were necessary in their day and played a positive role. In the situation created by the whole history of the hostility between trade unionism in Botswana, both BOPEU and Babereki Investments could not have developed except from these circles. Some of these circles, which we have interacted with in our various events and activities contributed in many ways to where we are simply because they were Comrade Motsamai’s friends. I repeat that Comrade Motsamai also somehow invited all these on himself through some of these same small knit circles. These exclusive groups uniting a very small number of people were in large nearly always based on personal friendship. Though they were a necessary stage in the development of where we are today as a union. With the power to own whatever we will, within the corners of this country. They also had their own problematic areas of interests. Money. As the union grew, it was by default confronted with the task of uniting these circles, forming strong links between them, and establishing continuity. This called for a firm base of operations beyond the reach of the national leadership, including that of Comrade Motsamai. These are some of the people who ate Comrade Motsamai.
A struggle between the circles was also therefore inevitable and naturally so, as would have happened elsewhere. Today, in retrospect, we can clearly see which of the circles was really in a position to act as a base of operations. But at that, Comrade Motsamai was bound to be fought within, fight for power. When the various circles were just beginning their work, no one could say that and the controversy could be resolved only through power struggle. We need to remember that those who fought for power and grabbed it will suffer the same fate when a new group with same aspirations emerge. The circles natural so began having their people with the union beyond Comrade Motsamai. I am aware that this is an easy thing to say after the events have unfolded, and to say it reveals a failure to understand the conditions then prevailing. For one thing, there was no criterion by which to judge the strength or importance of one or another circle. The importance of many of them, which are now forgotten, was exaggerated, but in their time they wanted through struggle to assert their right to existence. Secondly, the differences among the circles were over the direction the work was to take, work which at the time was new to them. In a nutshell, what ate Comrade Motsamai was that; leading such a huge organisation, with such a huge investment, he was bound to at one point or the other step into other people’s toes and he did. He was eaten from inside and outside as he had become a thorn that did not allow petty bourgeoisie to eat. He also refused new comers space and new comers felt left out and they needed the space. They now have the space. We can seat and watch, or we can act. It is entirely our choice.
Leader Thabo Keaipha
BOPEU Member – Moshupa