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Non-politicization of trade unions: Is BOPEU right?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

The issue of trade unionism and politics has not only affected relations between trade unions and government. It has also affected relations between trade unions themselves. Notably, since Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) took the position to support the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the run up to the 2014 general elections, relations between other BOFEPUSU affiliates and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) have soured.

The reason for such strained relations is that while BOPEU advocates for non-politicization of trade unionism, BOFEPUSU believes that trade unionism and politics are inseparable. However, BOFEPUSU recently clarified that its support for the UDC is not permanent and in 2014 it supported the UDC because the UDC had a pro-labour manifesto. BOFEPUSU further stated that going forward, it will support any political party, including the ruling BDP, if it is pro-labour.

It reiterated its long held position that trade unionism and politics are inseparable. Not only that. By stating that it will support any pro-labour political party it affirmed its view that partisan politics and trade unionism are not irreconcilable.  

The question that ought to be answered, then, is whether or not trade unionism and politics are inseparable. This question cannot be adequately answered without first defining a trade union and politics. In terms of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organization Act, CAP.48:01, a trade union means ‘an organization the principal objects of which include the regulation of relations between employees and employers or employers’ organizations or between employees and employees’. Politics is the practice and theory of influencing other people at a civic or individual level. Politics is also defined as the struggle for the control of the means of production and the distribution of resources.

To the extent that the distribution of resources underpins the relations between employees and employers, trade unions, in regulating such relations, inevitably deal with politics. For instance, trade unions may be faced with policies which promote privatization at the expense of labour rights.

The question is: in such cases, should trade unions condemn capitalism which is the basis for privatization and advocate for an alternative political ideology, e.g. socialism or they should just condemn privatization as a policy?

It is my view that it is not possible to condemn privatization as a policy, as trade unions often do, without being anti-capitalism. Put differently, it is not possible to advocate for state ownership of the means of production as a policy, as trade unions often do, without being pro-socialism.

Therefore, to the extent that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is a capitalist party, condemning capitalism is as good as condemning the BDP. Similarly, to the extent that the Botswana National Front (BNF) is a socialist party, condemning socialism is as good as condemning the BNF?   

It is, therefore, my view that trade unions’ condemnation of certain political ideologies and promotion of others is amiss, for not only does it inevitably amount to partisan politics, but is also not representative of the trade union members who support the condemned political ideology and those who do not subscribe to any political ideology. But, can trade unions not subscribe to any political ideology? Does the extent of protection of labour rights not depend on the government’s political ideology?

It is my view that human kind in all its endeavors, including labour relations, is controlled by the political ideology of the government of the day. Therefore, trade unions, like any social unit, are controlled by a political ideology, either consciously or unconsciously. In the result, though BOPEU or its leadership may not publicly state its affinity to any political ideology it does, in reality, subscribe to a political ideology through the influence of its current leadership.

But, is the issue political ideology or partisan politics? The issue seems to be partisan politics for even BOPEU has not, in fairness to it, said trade unionism and political ideology are separable. It has only condemned partisan politics in terms of which a trade union publicly declares its support for a particular political party and encourages its members to vote for such a political party. I am inclined to agree with BOPEU, though it also unconsciously often gives away its political alignment through the clothing and regalia which is associated with leftist political parties.  

As a microcosm of society trade unions’ membership is diverse. Trade union members support different political parties, and it cannot be right for a trade union to violate their right to the freedoms of conscience, choice and association by compelling them to vote for a particular political party. Invariably, such a political party is often the one preferred by the trade union leadership and not necessarily by the majority of the membership.  

The only consequence of such compulsion is division within the trade union movement. The disunity, real or perceived, between other BOFEPUSU affiliates and BOPEU is evidence of that. It is this consequence that several commentators warned of when BOFEPUSU took the decision to support the UDC in 2014.

Then, we were told that the whole federation supports the position, but today BOPEU has proven that our fear was justified after all. In fact, it is not only BOPEU. Many BOFEPUSU affiliates’ press releases in the run up to the 2014 general elections indicated a neutral approach to political party alignment.       

Politicization of trade unions, especially regarding partisan politics has proven to be detrimental to workers the world over. In South Africa where the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has entered into a tripartite alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), the workers have been betrayed because COSATU cannot freely champion the workers’ agenda since it is bound by the ANC’s resolutions. The issue of e-tolls is an example and the former COSATU Secretary General, Zwelinzima Vavi, lost favour with the ANC because he defied such resolutions in the interest of the workers.  

Still in South Africa, COSATU lost nine affiliates, including the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), which was expelled for questioning ANC resolutions which were taken to the detriment of the workers, but COSATU could not challenge them since it is in government with the ANC. This will happen to BOFEPUSU if it enters into an alliance with any political party when such party assumes state power.

History has shown that no ruling political party can ever be a true partner of labour because governments invariably sacrifice workers’ rights, as they do other sectors’ rights, to satisfy capital. Even the Labour Party in the United Kingdom has often left workers in the rain to satisfy the interests of multinational companies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s so-called structural adjustment policies.

Governments, with the aim of attracting investors and growing the economy, often compromise, through legislation and policies, such employment terms and conditions of service as minimum wages, hours of work, and minimum workplace safety standards. How can any trade union enter into an alliance with government if government can betray workers for the sake of profits? What method will BOFEPUSU use to avoid falling into such a trap when such giants as COSATU failed?

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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