University of Botswana (UB) which is regarded as the best institution of higher learning in the country is engulfed with bullying and academic mobbing by top academics over junior staff members.
According to one of the victims of bullying and academic mobbing at the institution, the experience is traumatizing and rife. In her research paper titled ‘Auto ethnography and cognitive adaptation: two powerful buffers against the negative consequences of workplace bullying and academic mobbing’ University of Botswana lecturer Dr. Mpho Pheko from the department of Psychology stated that managers and supervisors bully them.
The experience of working is not always pleasant and the research is an exploratory study which used auto ethnography to investigate experiences of academic bullying and mobbing, and relates the practices to power structures in academic institutions. Specifically, the author shares personal experiences and explores the physical and emotional pain of being bullied and mobbed.
“In chaotic organizations such as my employing organization (UB), where (even) protective policies are nonexistent, managers and supervisors seem to have legitimate power to bully others,” she stated in the research paper released this week.
“I wish to start by noting that the type of bullying and mobbing I incurred could be profiled as supervisory bullying or academic mobbing because all three of the primary perpetrators in my story had been the heads of the academic department at one point or another,” Pheko asserted. Furthermore, she said, all were still sitting on higher university committees where hiring, firing, promotion and compensation decisions were made.
She continued in her ordeal that she was also aware, as it was public knowledge in the university (UB) that the head of the institution was in a relationship with one of the perpetrators in her department. “This relationship complicated the situation even further because my attempts to report the matter to the university higher offices and committees were met with contempt, which ultimately forced me to seek justice through the Botswana courts of law—a decision that almost bankrupted me emotionally, financially and physically.”
Dr. Pheko said the head of the institution was later forced to resign from his position because of different allegations of maladministration. She narrated in the academic paper that her experience of being bullied began earlier than 2013. “At that time, I had worked for the university for several years, completed my doctoral degree and had a few publications under my belt.
Prior to this period I had never been verbally or formally warned for any form of indiscipline. My official performance records also showed that I was a diligent worker and a high performer, by all standards used,” the UB lecturer said. For many academics, and different academic institutions, quantity and quality of publications have been identified as the single most important criterion for tenure decisions, and the same applied to UB, she explained in the study.
With this understanding, she observed that a year before the bullying and mobbing practices intensified, “six of my colleagues and I, who had noticed practices of unfairness in the department, decided to form a group to facilitate research and publication collaboratively. In 2013, looking purely at the standards and the university’s criteria for the appointment, promotion and review of academic staff at the university; a number of us qualified for promotion.”
Therefore, sometime in 2013, she said a colleague and herself submitted applications for promotion from the position of lecturer to senior lecturer. The UB lecturer emphasised that, having noted their efforts, the three senior staff members teamed together in a mob-like fashion and forged a plan to exclude, punish and humiliate the seven of them.
“We later learnt, through a secret report, that the three perpetrators had carefully designed and launched a plan to ruin our reputations and dismiss us from work, by manufacturing stories and relaying them to the higher offices of the institution.” Fortunately or unfortunately, she highlighted that most of the other victims were on contract; therefore, it was easy for their contracts to be terminated. Unfortunately or fortunately for her, she pointed out “I had been hired as a permanent and pensionable staff member; therefore, the mob could not easily dispose of me. To fire me, they needed to be more creative.”
Dr. Pheko continued: “because of this employment status, the three senior staff members carefully crafted well-planned propaganda which entailed writing secret reports and letters which contained fictitious incidents, incorrect statements, subjective evaluations, doctoring of minutes, professional character assassination and libellous insinuations, and presented them to the highest offices in the institution. Most of these letters were written and submitted in secret, and my supervisors falsely claimed that they had copied me in to the letters and other official documents.”
According to Pheko in the department of Psychology, she only received most of the documentation when the university was forced to produce them by the courts of law. She said “I noticed then that most of the reports had been collectively and carefully handpicked, nit-picked and selectively assembled to devalue my contribution to scholarship as well as to discredit me personally, all done with the intention of raising doubts among the promoting bodies regarding both my credibility and my abilities as a scholar.”
Another painful and humiliating incident she said entailed her head of department coming into one of her classes to inform her—in front of students—that she was getting kicked out of the class. The Psychologist also noted that the UB management perpetrators were the only psychologists sitting on the university committee responsible for promotion. Therefore, all the other committee members (who were non-psychologists) relied on their expertise when promotion and remuneration decisions were made, she highlighted.
As the case progressed, she implied that the head of the institution used his power and authority to dissolve the sitting disciplinary committee, which had been generally fair towards the matter, and handpicked personal friends and associates to sit on a new committee that he formed.
“Colleagues alerted me to this and suggested that I resign from my job. I refused to resign because I knew that I was not guilty of any offence that I was being accused of. Throughout these experiences, I felt like a criminal and kept asking myself: “I have worked for this university for years. My head of department only had six months’ tenure with the university.”
Before him, the lecturer reminisced that she never had even one single verbal or written warning for any form of indiscipline. “Why do all these seemingly smart people believe that I have started doing all these crazy things that my supervisor is claiming that I have done?”
Following the constitution of the new committee, she received yet another letter indicating that she was being suspended from work indefinitely because she was “under investigation”. The suspension letter indicated that she was not allowed to enter any building belonging to the institution—a public institution, for that matter.
Furthermore, she said in the research paper that when studying the letters and emails and preparing court documents, it became clear that there were major partialities and a lack of consistency in the application of the university’s procedures, rules and regulations. “Therefore, when your employing institution is like mine, you are also likely to experience feelings of anger and rage about the lack of procedural fairness and even legal remedies,” she asserted.
Through psychotherapy and writing therapy, the UB author realized that for many months she just could not fathom or comprehend how a group of psychologists, university professors and seemingly sane-looking people could intentionally team up and unanimously agree to hurt, target, intimidate, humiliate, suppress, exclude, malign, discredit and intentionally fabricate stories about another human being. It is important to note that more than one worker experienced the mobbing, and that their experiences are equally important and relevant, she highlighted.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”