Botswana Federation of Public Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has accused President Mokgweetsi Masisi of taking them for granted after he snubbed the Federation’s elective congress this past weekend in Gaborone.
Members of the executive committee are of the view that the congress was an opportunity for the president to mend relations with one of the most influential Federations in the country.The congress came immediately after the departure of former President Khama who left office on the 1st April 2018. Khama had intense and fierce running battles with BOFEPUSU to the extent that he refused to meet the Federation leadership.Their sour relationship culminated in the 2011 industrial strike and subsequent amendments of labour laws which unions viewed as anti-workers, and reported Government to International Labour Organisation(ILO), something that tarnished Botswana’s international reputation.
“The bitter relations between Government and BOFEPUSU saw the Federation de-campaigning BDP MPs in 2014 elections which led to most of them losing and the opposition gaining more,” said an insider after news came in indicating that Masisi and his second in command Slumber Tsogwane would not attend the congress. Newly appointed Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Bogolo Kenewendo graced the event. From the atmosphere at the congress delegates were not happy with this development.
According to the Federation leadership, BOFEPUSU’s congress presented an opportunity for Masisi and his Government, it was expected that the new President would come up with a new approach of engaging with the labour centre.
“His luck came when the Federation invited him to come and address the Congress, and he confirmed attendance. Things took a twist when at the last minute Masisi snubbed BOFEPUSU and instead sent his Deputy Tsogwane. “To make matters worse, the Vice President did not show up at the Congress and instead Government sent the novice Minister Bogolo Kwenwendo,” said a BOFEPUSU executive member. It is believed this has angered the Federation as they felt insulted that the President and Vice President snubbed them and in turn sent a Minister who is wet behind the ears politically when there are seniors and relevant ministers such as Nonofo Molefhi (Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration) and Tshenolo Mabeo (Employment, Productivity and Skills Development). The development is interpreted as contempt against BOFEPUSU and non-consideration of workers’ importance in Masisi’’s work schedule. It is believed Masisi blew his chance and opportunity to appeal to unions, and they now view him from the same prism as Khama, as inaccessible which borders on arrogance. The lack of access to the country’s top office for unions has been a growing concern to BDP parliamentary hopefuls, as they fear the wrath of unions.
It remains to be seen as to what impact will the latest turn of events have on the build-up to 2019 elections. During May Day celebration this year BOFEPUSU accused Masisi of taking workers for granted when he assigned Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi to read live on television, the May Day message on his behalf. The Federation fumed saying this undermines workers given that Morupisi is regarded as one of the enemies of the workers. The federation then gave Masisi 100 days to ‘come to his senses’.BOFEPUSU Publicity Secretary Mogomotsi Motshegwe confirmed that they felt belittled by the high office. He said the congress was a good platform for the president to address workers and for the federation to make him appreciate labour issues and matters of national importance.
He said when the new administration indicated that it is willing to work with unions; they thought Masisi would live to his promise. “We thought this was the opportunity for him to share with us his deliverables on labour issues. “We were disappointed when he changed at last minute and decided to send his Vice. We thought because they share the high office together we should be understanding but when he sent a new minister who do not understand some of our issues as workers we felt belittled. “There are other senior ministers who understand our issues better that the president could have sent. But because we are democratic we welcomed her. We are very disappointed because it now shows that the president’s level of priorities is questionable,” Motshegwe said.