The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions’ (BFTU) elective congress scheduled for month-end in Palapye which will be the first since Botswana Public Officers Union (BOPEU) became a member, will most likely be the game changer.
The federation looks set to emerge from the congress with a substantially transformed new leadership, possibly dominated by faces from their new affiliate, BOPEU, whose arrival was hailed as a big catch. BOPEU is the biggest affiliate, followed by Botswana Mine Workers Union. Other federation member unions are small unions from marginalized sectors.
A pointer to BOPEU’s ambitions to wield much control in the federation is said to have been noted recently at a BFTU general council meeting which was held at Oasis Motel in Tlokweng. One of the senior members in the federation who attended the Oasis Motel meeting has said that BOPEU’s fledging of muscle became apparent, much to the worry of other federation members.
As a classic use of its numerical strength, BOPEU is feared to have cut deals with small federation union members where they (small unions) will support BOPEU in all positions it wants and that in turn, BOPEU will also vote for them in positions they are vying for. “It is becoming clearer every day that BOPEU wants to make good use of their numerical strength in the federation to win all top positions,” the insider who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal revealed.
The general fear enveloping the federation is that once BOPEU takes over the control of the federation, it may be tempted to rekindle its fight with its rival, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). According to sources, positions BOPEU is gunning for include that of the Vice Presidency, which they have put up Martin Gabobake for; that of Secretary General, which they have put up Thusang Butale for. Butale is unopposed.
If BOPEU is to carry the day when congress ends, then the biggest loser will be the current Secretary General, Gadzani Mhotsha, who is currently regarded as the most influential person within the federation. He would be easily remembered for his most recent public spat with BOFEPUSU officials at Geneva during the International Labour Organization (ILO) conference.
It is understood that BOPEU wants a President whom they can easily control and it is for this reason that they have approached the sitting President, Bohithetswe Lentswe and asked that he defends his position against three contenders, namely Jack Tlhagale, Allan Keitseng and Mhotsha.
“We will be going for the elections and I am standing with other three for the Presidency. We will be using proportional representation unlike equal representation we have been using. This is so because unions don’t have equal membership like in the past. What I can tell you as there is no beef between members, the bigger picture is the federation,” BFTU SG Mhotsha said when asked about the emanating conflicts between unions.
BOPEU Secretary Topias Marenga has also denied their use of numerical strength to capture BFTU. “Those are just speculations we have our own nominees in VP and SG those are the only big positions that could be talked about of course one of our own is contending for regional coordinator in Maun. We don’t want to capture BFTU,” he said.
Information reaching this publication suggests that Lentswe had previously indicated that he would not contest for any position in the congress in order to pave way for the new era of leadership. He has since changed tune and now wants to defend his position. More Information, though unconfirmed, is that he has been convinced by BOPEU top brass to defend the position.
Although BOPEU top brass will likely have their way and be part of the new leadership, some of the members of the union are of the view that this will polarize the federation that they recently joined. Speaking to WeekendPost, BOPEU members who cannot be named revealed that it would be unfair for the union to push Mhotsha aside given that he took blows for BOPEU to be admitted into the federation. “He became unpopular within the federation for his relentless push for BOPEU to be finally accepted by other BFTU affiliates,” a Gaborone region member stated.
Information gathered by this publication is to the effect that upon realizing BOPEU’s ‘evil’ intentions, small unions within the federation are now working on a counter strategy that will see some compromises being made ahead of the congress. A plan is being hatched and requests are being made to other unions especially those with candidates for the federation presidency to rally behind Mhotsha on what has been coined as a plan to save BFTU.
The other affiliates are worried that BOPEU wants to control the federation through other unions which it is busy trying to capture. This, according to those not amused by the move will surrender the federation’s responsibility into a single union, thereby subjecting it to organizational abuse.
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.”