The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions(BFTU) May Day celebration in Selibe Phikwe on Monday had both opposition and ruling party politicians united in their call for workers' union organisations to unite.
BFTU held the event in collaboration with the Botswana Public Service Union (BOPEU). In his solidarity message, the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Nonofho Molefhi, who is also Member of Parliament (MP) for Selibe Phikwe East, said that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) supports the workers’ struggle.
“The red colour of the ruling BDP represents struggle. We speak the same language and are on the same path. We need to work together in the service of the people,” he said. The theme of the day was Unity and Solidarity; Requisite in Reclaiming Trade Union Social Dialogue Space. “The workers must address their differences, resolve them and unite because, united, they can go far. Dialogue is important,” said Molefhi.
He explained that more industrial courts are about to be opened in certain parts of the country to help in the timeous disposal of industrial court cases. When giving a solidarity message on behalf of the Botswana Congress Party(BCP), the MP for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse, said his party was concerned with differences among unions which have ended in court.
“We are concerned about these debilitating battles some of which have ended in court. These fights between unions and federations are a negation of your theme for today,” said Keorapetse who reminded the unions that the cooperation among the Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP), the Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the BCP, which has resulted in the birth of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) came about after workers’ unions urged the bickering opposition parties to unite against the ruling BDP.
“We heeded your advice and are now working together as the opposition. I appeal to you to live by example and unite so that you speak with one voice,” said Keorapeste who added that he was concerned by the proliferation of trade unions and federations in the country.
Keorapetse told the May Day gathering that “...organisation is the weapon of the weak against the strong. I call upon BFTU and the BOFEPPUSU to dialogue”. He said BCP will not allow any union to make them hate and isolate another because of those unions’ differences.
“We are on the side of principle. For example, I will be officiating at a BOFEPPUSU event this afternoon,” said the BCP politician. The tone for solidarity among unions had been set by the president of BFTU, Bohithelwe Lentswe who said that today, workers in Botswana, particularly through their organisations, are less united than before.
“We have also noted that workers are more in competition with each other instead of complementing each other. In the process, we have lost ground on social dialogue and have given the government more space to make our lives difficult,” said Lentswe who called upon the unions to become their brother’s keeper.
In her message read on her behalf by Matilda Masame, the president of BOPEU Masego Mogwera, decried the ongoing court battles between BOPEU and BOFEPPUSU calling upon the concerned unions to overcome their differences and find a way to work together for the betterment of the welfare of the working class.”
The ongoing court cases between BOPEU and BOFEPPUSU, she said, is a symptom that the labour movement is unwell. For his part, former secretary general of the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Japhta Radibe, called upon BFTU to take the initiative and engage BOFEPPUSU. In his keynote address, the Leader of the Opposition (LOO), Duma Boko, asked the unions to refuse to be manipulated and divided on non-issues.
“There is no need for conflict among yourselves as unions. “Workers across the breadth and dimensions of this country must dialogue and unite so that you together craft correct responses to the challenges you face as workers,” said Boko who, like Keorapetse, told the workers how opposition parties needlessly fought bitterly among themselves.
“Now we have found each other. All the appearances of hostility among us are gone because they were just that; appearances. Please remember that the trade union movements were instrumental in bringing us together. We want to see your own hostilities addressed.
You should always address your differences with cordiality and respect. As people, we should learn to engage even with our enemies,” advised Boko.
The celebrations were officially opened by the Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo who stressed his commitment and that of his government to improve and maintain productive relations with the labour movement.