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.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.