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Lobatse Town Council refuses to stop ex-union members’ subscriptions

Lobatse Town Council (LTC) is refusing to stop deductions of subscriptions of its employees, who were before termination, members of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU); Gaborone High Court Judge Justice Terrence Rannowane heard this week.

In the matter before the High Court, ex BLLAWHU members want the court to declare that the union and Lobatse Town Council (LTC), by continuing to withhold BLLAWHU member subscription fees after having being instructed by the individual employees to stop deductions, are violating the Employment Act.

Section 79 of the Employment Act states: “(1) Except where otherwise expressly permitted by this Act or any other written law, no employer shall make any deduction or make any agreement with any employee (whether or not the agreement is contained in the contract of employment) for any deduction from the wages to be paid by the employer or from any other payments which may be due to the employee or for any payment to the employer by the employee:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply to deductions deposited with the sanction of the Commissioner under section 45. (2) any employer who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the penalties prescribed by section 151(d).”

The members, who are around 65 in number, insist that BLLAHWU and LTC should be ordered forthwith from deducting their subscription fees. In addition, they request that the court direct that the duo to reimburse the claimants all monies unlawfully withheld by them. According to court documents seen by WeekendPost the members earlier this year terminated their membership with the union. However the request is said to have fallen on deaf ears.

Although members insist that they informed the Council of the termination, LTC on the other hand told court that there is no proof to substantiate the allegation. An esteemed attorney Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Firm, representing Keabetswe Sera and 65 others stated in his oral arguments in court this week that: “Lobatse Town Council (LTC) refused an instruction from employees to stop the deduction.”

He continued: “instructions came from employees when the deductions started, and now when they wanted the deductions to stop they followed the same process by writing a letter to employer (LTC) to terminate their deduction. But the employer said they are not going to accede to the request.”

The prominent Attorney explained that employees must authorize employers for the deductions and the law doesn’t give unions any power to be consulted with or be heard, adding that it’s the sole prerogative of employers. Therefore, the lawyer said, in terms of BLLAHWU he is not seeking any substantive relief against them but only from the employer, adding that unions were only cited as an interested party to the matter.

“The union (BLLAHWU) is an interested party because the money deducted from the members does go to them. By continuing to withholding BLLAHWU members’ subscriptions, LTC is violating the Employment Act. Who is deducting money in favour of the unions? It’s only employers. Unions have no control of deducting and there is nothing that the unions can do.”

In January this year, the well regarded lawyer emphasized that there was a sign and power of attorney calling the employer (LTC) to stop deductions. “Therefore they cannot be any sign of seriousness like approaching the courts,” he was quoted as saying. Ndadi said the Local Government Act is clear and gives the Council authority and power to sue and be sued where it warrants so.

In prior heads of arguments, Ndadi, together with Ramou Jallow stated that “the employer was further served with a Statutory Notice by way of registered mail to stop deductions as they are unauthorized and offensive to the Employment Act. Despite the instructions and the demand via the Statutory Notice, the deductions have continued to this day.”    

They pointed out that authorization was withdrawn by the employees in relation to the employer, which renders any further deductions from their salaries unlawful and the employees are consequently entitled to a full refund of their respective subscriptions and for the deductions to stop forthwith.

For his part, a close friend of Ndadi, Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners who stood in for BLLAHWU, said he was surprised that Ndadi is raising the matter to the effect that they are only an interested party in the oral arguments and did not mention such position in advance in their heads of arguments so that they prepare their contrasting point.

“So today, the applicants’ lawyer (Ndadi) said we have only been cited as an interested party but unfortunately they did not state it in any of their documents like affidavits, notice of motion, heads of argument etc,” the renowned lawyer in Dingake pointed out. Dingake’s point of view was that at that point, since they know the relief is not being sought by the applicants (that Ndadi is representing), it then meant they can change their position, which might also have consequences.

He highlighted that as a consequence it means that the case should revolve around whether or not their opposition to the matter is reasonable or unreasonable and against whom. In defending BLLAHWU, the legal guru went on further to however indicate that withholding of the subscription fees by the union is only lawful adding that the matter is between employer and the union as per the collective labour agreement which is binding – as the expectations is that each deals with the other in good faith.

“Consent was given. Union members, right at the bottom of the consent pledges herself that authorization of deductions continues. Therefore there is no contravention of any law,” Dingake asserted in court. In his assessment he told court that the application is without merit and should be dismissed with costs since no relief has been sought to them (BLLAWHU) they are also entitled to costs in the matter.

Meanwhile in his written heads of argument he had stated: “the applicants did not terminate in accordance with the constitution that governs the union and as such a consequent of that they have effectively failed to terminate their membership.” As such he emphasised “the applicants have failed to terminate membership in accordance with the constitution that governs the union that they are members of and the collective labour agreement.”  

When responding to the whole matter in court, Thapelo Mphala, who filed the papers with Charity Mahube on behalf of Lobatse Town Council (LTC), said he immediately abandons his earlier contention in his heads of arguments in relation to the Employment Act and raises fresh arguments of locus standi. The attorney brought to the attention of court that “Lobatse Town Council is not the statutory employer of the applicant members on this matter, and therefore deductions are not done by the Council but by the Treasure General of the union which is not an office with LTC in terms of the Local Government Act.”

However the Judge interjected to ask why they participated in the matter while they knew they had no locus standi. Mphala said they appeared because they had already been brought to court. “Applicants must instead crude against the Attorney General not LTC. LTC is a separate entity with its own functions encapsulated in the Local Government Act.”  He said the Council cannot reimburse the applicants because the union (BLLAHWU), rightfully before court, is the one which holds the members’ money and not the council.  

Although he said they do not have locus standi he also mentioned that the members in question have not signed to terminate their subscriptions at the Council. He argued in the papers that none of the 77 members cited in the papers appended their signatures on their termination letters except for 21 whom have already been sorted out. “We humbly submit that clearly this is a new matter and the Applicants are not being candid with this Honourable Court, they have crafted the list attached to the letter for their own convenience and to mislead the Honourable Court.”

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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Ngamiland Cattle Farmers Gain Green Zone Revenue

27th January 2023

Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.

These collaborative efforts being piloted in Habu and Eretsha villages also include the Pro-Nature Enterprises Project for the People of Southern Africa, funded by Agence Française de DĂ©veloppement (AFD) and Le Fonds français pour l’environnement mondial (FFEM). This complementary funding from AFD and FFEM supports the implementation of the Herding4Health (H4H) model and Rangeland Stewardship Agreements across four rangeland sites in Southern Africa, including Habu and Eretsha, to incentivize best practices that could offer sustainability in the long term for livelihoods, conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.

“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.

Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.

“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from the Botswana government and Green Climate Fund, these interventions will be replicated, through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Rangelands project, across the country. Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government

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