Newly elected President of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU),Thatayoane Mokhurutshe has said that the working class should unsettle the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) at the 2019 general elections in a bid to strengthen their bargaining power.
In an exclusive interview with this publication this week, the youthful trade union activist said BLLAHWU, an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPPPUSU), will have a clearly defined role as the 2019 general elections approach.
“Trade union politics and mainstream politics are inseparable,” he said, “We need to raise political consciousness and have the working class have their voice heard by the public.” Mokhurutshe said people who continue to sponsor the diatribe on those who engage in issues of national politics are those who enjoy the support of the employers, and are doing so at the detriment of the workers.
Born only 32 years ago in Serowe, Mokhurutshe reminisce his early childhood days which led him to pursue the path that he has taken. His uncle, Montwedi Mokhurutshe cultivated the trade union and politics activism in him. He also called to mind his History teacher at Moeng College, Mr Buti, whom he credits for teaching him history in a passionate manner.
“These two people have influence in the path that I have taken. Learning history provoked something in me and also had major influence in shaping my consciousness,” he recalls. From Moeng College, Mokhurutshe found himself entangled in the rowdy student politics at University of Botswana (UB) where he was pursuing Bachelor of Adult Education, specialising in Community Development. He would find himself on the side of MASS-BNF, a Botswana National Front (BNF) structure in the university.
During his era at the university, he served for three years as MASS-BNF Secretary General in the Student Representative Council (SRC). He learned the art of militancy, taking the forefront in students protest and was involved in the infamous “David Olatotswe Strike” in which students vandalised property in a violent protest. At the centre of controversy were the book shop and the refectory saga.
In the aftermath, the university was closed as a result of growing violence from the protesting students. A few years down the line, Mokhurutshe was at the forefront of another strike, this time around at national level in the BOFEPUSU (now BOFEPPPUSU) 2011 Mother of all strikes.
After graduating from the UB, he was employed by government under Local Government, where he was based in Kanye. “I was never recruited to join the union. The first day at work I asked where I can find the membership forms,” recalls Mokhurutshe, “I immediately joined and appointed myself shop steward at work.”
He would find himself at the thick of the things during the 2011 public servant strike and credits himself as a great organizer. Using his own Nissan vehicle, he took a leading role in mobilising and organising the workers during the entire strike period which lasted for nearly three months.
In 2014 he was elected the Chairman of Kanye Branch, which he says he led with distinction. “I fought for workers at the work place, and I have always been passionate about defending employees in disciplinary hearings,” he said. “We had 14 cases which I participated in and we only lost one.”
In 2015, Mokhurutshe jetted out of the country to pursue a post graduate Degree at Global Labour University. The scholarship was sponsored by the university and the Brazil government. While at college he kept in contact with his comrades in Botswana. It was during this tenure that he was requested by various structures to accept the responsibility of taking charge of BLLAHWU leadership. Having declined the same offers previously, he accepted this time around.
Upon his return in 2016, he solicited for support in union structures. With his track record in the union, and a hailed organiser, it was not surprising when in December last year he ascended to the helm of the union. He was elected the president of the union, with 174 votes, beating Bernard Moseru who garnered 126. Mokhurutshe replaced Disang Mokwape who did not defend his position.
VISION FOR BLLAHWU
Mokhurutshe said BLLAHWU has always distinguished itself as a vanguard of the working class and has remained one of the most militant unions in the country; torch bearer of progressive politics and is leaning to the left. During his tenure, BLLAHWU will continue to mount campaigns against privatisation which has lead to many public servants losing their jobs.
“The employer is capitalist and has the tendency of exploiting workers,” he said. Mokhurutshe spoke against trade unions’ obsession with business ventures as he expressed that “It’s not primary role of the trade unions.” He described it as “Business Trade Unionism’’ or “Yellow Unionism” and blamed it for loss of focus for unions in their primary mandate which is to defend the welfare and rights of the working class.
“Unions should invest to finance the struggle and besides that it will be a loss of focus for unions. Workers will lose if unions do that,” he remarked. He said under his leadership he will embark on extensive membership drive and expand the scope of BLLAWHU membership and include others which were not catered for in the past. BLLAWHU initially focused on health workers, local government employees and land board employees. Presently, BLLAHWU membership stands at over 13000. Mokhurutshe said since returning from the elective congress, BLLAWHU is united and the departure of dissidents has helped bring peace in the union.
ON BOFEPPPUSU TOWARDS 2019
In December, affiliates of BOFEPPPUSU met and took radical resolutions, among them to mobilise its members in preparation for the highly anticipated 2019 general elections. BOFEPPPUSU, which threw its weight behind the opposition coalition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in 2014 general election has been at odds with government for some time now. Their battles have been defined by endless court battles.
Mokhurutshe is of the view that, BOFEPPPUSU and its affiliates are within their right in determining who governs the country in the next elections. He said unions should also look for leaders who are pro-workers. According to him, the worker’s resentment against the current regime is caused by income disparities. He said government has failed to deal with public service salary disparities and failed to utilise its resources for the economy to reach full employment.
“We cannot be spectators in our own economy. Highest income inequality is not natural, it is created by government through its policies,” he said. While government always prefers increment which is a fixed percentage across the board, Mokhurutshe prefers a pyramid structure in which the lowest earning employees will get a bigger increment while highest earning will get a lesser increment.
Botswana remains one of most unequal societies in the world, with salaries in public service attesting to that. Those in the lower structure can get away with a paltry increment of P37 while the top earners will walk away with as much as P1100. Mokhurutshe affirmed that BLLAHWU remains a committed member of BOFEPPPUSU and in the lead to 2019 general elections, its role will be clearly defined. “Government is under pressure hence the decisions they have been making recently, but as workers we do not realise the enormous power that we possess,” he stated.
“BOFEPPPUSU will remain resilient and we will not limit our bargaining power.” Even though Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) has de-affiliated from BOFEPPPUSU, Mokhurutshe remains confident that the federation is still intact and influential.
“The withdrawal of BOPEU is of course something not to be celebrated, but BOFEPPPUSU remains strong. We still have good leaders such as Rari [Tobokani], Motshwarakgole [Johnson] and Motshegwa [Ketlhalefile] and others who were at the forefront during the 2011 public servant strike,” he said.
Former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Member of Parliament for Gaborone North, Haskins Nkaigwa has confirmed his departure from opposition fold to re-join the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
Nkaigwa said opposition is extremely divided and the leadership not in talking terms. “They are planning evil against each other. Nothing much will be achieved,” Nkaigwa told WeekendPost.
“I believe my time in the opposition has come to an end. It’s time to be of value to rebuilding our nation and economy of the country. Remember the BDP is where I started my political journey. It is home,” he said.
“Despite all challenges currently facing the world, President Masisi will be far with his promises to Batswana. A leader always have the interest of the people at heart despite how some decisions may look to be unpopular with the people.
“I have faith and full confidence in President Dr Masisi leadership. We shall overcome as party and nation the current challenges bedevilling nations. BDP will emerge stronger. President Masisi will always have my backing.”
Nkaigwa served as opposition legislator between 2014-2019 representing Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under UDC banner. He joined BMD in 2011 at the height public servant strike whilst Gaborone City Deputy Mayor. He eventually rose to become the mayor same year, after BDP lost majority in the GCC.
Nkaigwa had been a member of Botswana National Front (BNF), having joined from Alliance for Progressives (AP) in 2019.
Botswana has received assistance worth over P100 million from Japanese government since 2019, making the latter of the largest donors to Botswana in recent years.
The assistance include relatively large-scale grant aid programmes such as the COVID-19 programme (to provide medical equipment; P34 million), the digital terrestrial television programme (to distribute receivers to the underprivileged, P17 million), the agriculture promotion programme (to provide agricultural machinery and equipment, P53million).
“As 2020 was a particularly difficult year, where COVID-19 hit Botswana’s economy and society hard, Japan felt the need to assist Botswana as our friend,” said Japan’s new Ambassador to Botswana, Hoshiyama Takashi.
“It is for this reason that grants of over P100 million were awarded to Botswana for the above mentioned projects.”
Japan is now the world’s fourth highest ranking donor country in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA).
From 1991 to 2000, Japan continued as the top donor country in the world and contributed to Asia’s miracle economic development.
From 1993 onwards, the TICAD process commenced through Japan’s initiative as stated earlier. Japan’s main contribution has been in the form of Yen Loans, which are at a concessional rate, to suit large scale infrastructure construction.
“In Botswana, only a few projects have been implemented using the Yen Loan such as the Morupule “A” Power Station Rehabilitation and Pollution Abatement in 1986, the Railway Rolling Stock Increase Project in 1987, the Trans-Kalahari Road Construction Project in 1991, the North-South Carrier Water Project in 1995 and the Kazungula Bridge Construction Project in 2012,” said Ambassador Hoshiyama.
“In terms of grant aid and technical assistance, Japan has various aid schemes including development survey and master planning, expert dispatch to recipient countries, expert training in Japan, scholarships, small scale grass-roots program, culture-related assistance, aid through international organizations and so on.”
In 1993, Japan launched Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) to promote Africa’s development, peace and security, through the strengthening of relations in multilateral cooperation and partnership.
TICAD discuss development issues across Africa and, at the same time, present “aid menus” to African countries provided by Japan and the main aid-related international organizations, United Nations (UN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
“As TICAD provides vision and guidance, it is up to each African country to take ownership and to implement her own development following TICAD polices and make use of the programmes shown in the aid menus,” Ambassordor Hoshiyama noted.
“This would include using ODA loans for quality infrastructure, suited to the country’s own nation-building needs. It is my fervent hope that Botswana will take full advantage of the TICAD process.”
Since then, seven conferences where held, the latest, TICAD 7 being in 2019 at Yokohama. TICAD 7’s agenda on African development focused on three pillars, among them the first pillar being “Accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through innovation and private sector engagement”.
“Yes, private investment is very important, while public investment through ODA (Official Development Assistance) still plays an indispensable role in development,” the Japanese Ambassador said.
“For further economic development in Africa, Japan recognizes that strengthening regional connectivity and integration through investment in quality infrastructure is key.”
Japan has emphasized the following; effective implementation of economic corridors such as the East Africa Northern Corridor, Nacala Corridor and West Africa Growth Ring; Quality infrastructure investment in line with the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment should be promoted by co-financing or cooperation through the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japan.
Japan also emphasized the establishment of mechanisms to encourage private investment and to improve the business environment.
According to the statistics issued by Japan’s Finance Ministry, Japan invested approximately 10 billion US dollars in Africa after TICAD 7 (2019) to year end 2020, but Japanese investment through third countries are not included in this figure.
“With the other points factored in, the figure isn’t established yet,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
The next conference, TICAD 8 will be held in Tunisia in 2022. This will be the second TICAD summit to be held on the African continent after TICAD 6 which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016.
According to Ambassador Hoshiyama, in preparation for TICAD 8, the TICAD ministerial meeting will be held in Tokyo this year. The agenda to be discussed during TICAD 8 has not yet been fully deliberated on amongst TICAD Co-organizers (Japan, UN, UNDP, the World Bank and AU).
“Though not officially concluded, given the world situation caused by COVID-19, I believe that TICAD 8 will highlight health and medical issues including the promotion of a Universal Health Coverage (UHC),” said Hoshiyama.
“As the African economy has seriously taken a knock by COVID-19, economic issues, including debt, could be an item for serious discussion.”
The promotion of business is expected to be one of the most important topics. Japan and its partners, together with the business sector, will work closely to help revitalize private investment in Africa.
“All in all, the follow-up of the various programs that were committed by the Co-Organizers during the Yokohama Plan of Actions 2019 will also be reviewed as an important item of the agenda,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
“I believe that this TICAD follow-up mechanism has secured transparency and accountability as well as effective implementation of agreed actions by all parties. The guiding principle of TICAD is African ownership and international partnership.”
Directorate on Intelligence Services (DIS) Director General, Brigadier Peter Magosi is said to be hell-bent and pushing President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reshuffle his cabinet as a matter of urgency since a number of his ministers are conflicted.
The request by Magosi comes at a time when time is ticking on his contract which is awaiting renewal from Masisi.
This publication learns that Magosi is unshaken by the development and continues to wield power despite uncertainty hovering around his contractual renewal.