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.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.