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Ntuane, Vavi clash over union involvement in politics

Former General Secretary of Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Vice-Chairperson of the Millennium Labour Council; Zwelinzima Vavi


Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane and veteran South African unionist Zwelinzima Vavi disagree on the role that unions should play in the politics of their countries.

Both men were invited to speak at the recent BOPEU Congress in Palapye. Vavi was the guest speaker while Ntuane was representing the ruling party.

Ntuane told delegates that BDP subscribes to the notion that unions as vital components of civil society must be strong, accountable, and vibrant and remain independent from party politics.

“Our  position is  borne from  the  observation  that  in this country no single  union can lay claim to  membership that is  homogenous in the  support of any  single  political party,” he contended.

“Much like our  own families,  union membership  comprises  individuals  of  different  political  convictions co-existing  side  by side, who ought to be  united  by  a common  desire to  represent and protect the  interests  of the worker.”

Ntuane’s remarks come in the wake of 2014 general elections in which Botswana Federation Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU)’s decision to support and endorse opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).  

The BDP Secretary General said the unions  that  affiliate  to  political parties   are  vulnerable  to suffering the unintended consequence of  splits  and divisions  over  party  politics.

“In other instances  unions that  are active  in the trenches of party  politics  end up  little  more than a labour  desk;   and in the  process the plight of the  worker  plays second fiddle to  the  incubator  political party,” he said.

“BDP thinks it’s more prudent for unions to embrace non-partisanship and allow members to exercise individual political choice. After all there is no natural law that says unions must compromise their independence for party political adventurism.”

But Vavi said decent working conditions do not fall from the sky like manna. Likewise he said progressive and pro working class and or pro poor policies do not just happen on their own, but through change.

Vavi said BOPEU can be champions of change in Botswana working together with other progressive forces.

Vavi said workers must not divorce themselves from the politics of the country because it will not only be reactionary but counterproductive.

“Our very DNA as workers is politics. Every demand and every campaign we take up is political and ideologically inspired,” he said. “No one can divorce workers from both local, national and global politics −there is no room for neutrality in particular in a class divided societies Botswana included.”

Vavi warned unions to avoid signing blank cheques to the liberation movements guaranteeing that they will mobilise workers to vote them into power without insisting on reciprocal actions to benefit workers.

Veteran unionist, cautioned BOPEU against possible domestication by the employers which will render the union ineffective in delivering its mandate.

“Union movements have been ‘domesticated’ and once militant and robust unions are now used as platforms to advance the careers of former trade unionists in government.”

Vavi, who was expelled from COSATU earlier this year, told delegates to learn from South Africa and avoid the dangers of being domesticated.

He outspoken Vavi remarked that COSATU once a militant and powerful union was able to resist oppression aimed at the working class. He said the situation has tragically changed for the worse over just three years.  

“After years of paralysis as a result of internal battles COSATU has now virtually imploded and now remains impotent; it has become little more than a labour desk for the ruling party, the African

“This has been a real tragedy for many of us, who spent years building the federation.”

The former COSATU General Secretary revealed that the decision to derail the federation [COSATU], and turn it into a conveyorbelt for Government, was not an accident, but a deliberate act, a conscious strategy to ensure that COSATU did not challenge Government’s slide into full-scale neo-liberalism.

“I do not apologise for saying this, but the current COSATU leadership has been pawns in a much bigger conspiracy, though as willing accomplices they are no less guilty,” he charged.

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When talking at the handing over ceremony, Chull-Joo Park, said they agreed with BRCS to give out e-learning equipment to better the training skills of students living with disabilities.

“With the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment and job training skills, we will be able to help the students living with disabilities to do e-learning and to better their education and job training,” said Chull-Joo Park.

It was revealed that the South Korean Embassy approached BRCS with the intent to donate equipment and educational material that includes an embroidery machine, photo copier machine, tablets and interactive boards to be utilized by the trainees.

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Smart board gadgets will provide the students with an elevated learning process to be fostered by e-learning. The gadgets provide a more visual element to the learning process, which in turn improves learner mental retention.

Tlamelong Rehabilitation serves the marginalized and underserved less privileged persons living with disability in Botswana. The center offers boarding services, vocational training, social services, physiotherapy and rehabilitation services for young people living disabilities aged 18-35 from across the country over a period of two (2) years per cohort which has a maximum intake capacity of 35. BRCS through International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have managed to create great working synergy with the South Korean Embassy in Pretoria based in South Africa to support or augment the National Society’s Rehabilitation Centre’s learning challenges.

For his part, BRSC Secretary General Kutlwano Mokokomani said they are delighted to convey their gratitude as BRSC to the South Korean Embassy for donation and they look forward to an enduring partnership for such worthy causes.

“South Korean Embassy’s great gesture will enable trainees to thrive, to fulfil their dreams to become a reality as this equipments will go a long way in creating great impact in the lives of trainees and their families. We wish to convey our sincere gratitude to the South Korean Embassy for their noble gesture of donating the E-learning equipments.”

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