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BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC: The risks & benefits

Ndulamo Anthony Morima


Sometime in August 2014 I wrote an article entitled “BOFEPUSU’s partisan politics: the risks and benefits”. The article was motivated by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU)’s decision to support the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

It will be recalled that at the time, BOFEPUSU labelled several Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament (MPs) as enemies of democracy, and not only campaigned against them, but also implored its members not to vote for them. After the general elections, BOFEPUSU’s pro-UDC stance somewhat changed, with the leadership, or at least some of them, stating that it would support any political party, including the BDP, provided its policies and programmes are pro-labour.

However, recently, BOFEPUSU reaffirmed its endorsement of the UDC, stating that the BDP is anti-labour. This was after government and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) succeeded in obtaining a stay of execution for Justice Motswagole’s decision interdicting Government from continuing to pay salaries of non-unionized public officers inclusive of three and four percent salary adjustment for the financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively.

It will be recalled that in response to BOFEPUSU’s statement aforesaid, the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Ruth Maphorisa, issued media statements warning public servants not to engage in politics since that will be in contravention of the Public Service Act, 2008 and would warrant disciplinary action.    

BOFEPUSU’s decision and DPSM’s response have once more brought the issue of politicization of trade unions and, by extension, the workers to the fore. It is this latest development which has motivated me to write this article. As a prelude, a historical background is apposite.

Since the 2011 public sector strike BOFEPUSU has increasingly leaned towards opposition politics. While the Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) were given platforms to address the striking workers the ruling BDP was not.

BOFEPUSU’s inclination towards opposition politics continued after the 2011 public sector strike.  During the Letlhakeng bye elections in April 2013, BOFEPUSU encouraged its members to vote for the UDC. In 2013, BOFEPUSU stated that it will fund and/or support opposition candidates during the 2014 general elections.

Still in 2013, BOFEPUSU, some of whose members often wore regalia associated with leftist political parties, resolved to name and shame politicians who are not supportive of the labour agenda, especially those contesting the 2014 general elections.

Sometime in August 2014, it was reported that during the launch of the UDC’s candidate for the Mankgodi-Gabane constituency, Major General Pius Mokgware, a BOFEPUSU leader announced BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC for the 2014 general elections. It was, however, reported that BOFEPUSU’s Secretary General, Tobokani Rari, distanced BOFEPUSU from such statements.

At the time, Rari was reported to have stated that the decision to endorse a political party or coalition will only be made after ascertaining each political party’s labour policy at a yet to be convened forum and after studying all the political parties’ manifestos.

I now discuss the risks and benefits of BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC. It is incontrovertible that BOFEPUSU’s members are affiliated to different political parties. Indeed, some of the members are not affiliated to any political party. It is, therefore, inarguable that BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC will alienate some of its members.

For instance, though not all BOPEU members were opposed to UDC’s endorsement, some were and it is this issue which, in the main, resulted in BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU, something which, as evidenced by the recent court battles between BOFEPUSU and BOPEU, has splintered the trade union movement.    

Conversely, by endorsing the UDC, BOFEPUSU may benefit by retaining and/or attracting members from the UDC. However, the extent to which this can be a benefit depends on the number of members of the BDP or those that are apolitical that BOFEPUSU may lose.

Pre-2014, I was of the view that BOFEPUSU stood to lose from its endorsement of the UDC since it was likely to lose more members than it would gain considering the then larger following of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and BDP compared to that of the BNF, BMD and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP).

Considering UDC’s performance in the 2014 general elections, the BCP’s post-2014 joining of the UDC and government’s alienation of the workers through unilateral salary increases, my view has now changed. With respect to bargaining with government, BOFEPUSU stands to lose because government believes it is pursuing an opposition political agenda.  In 2014, government suspended its participation in the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).

Government only returned to the PSBC following court action by BOFEPUSU though that was to no benefit since no meaningful negotiations have been held since, resulting in government’s unilateral increases of public servants’ salaries which led to protracted court battles and BOFEPUSU’s recent withdrawal from the PSBC.

BOFEPUSU also stands to lose since government may deny it non-statutory benefits. For instance, had it not been for the courts, government would have terminated the secondment of trade union Secretary Generals under the pretext that they uttered political statements.

President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama has been quoted as having informed civil servants that he is ready for battle with trade unions if they do not desist from open political activity. As shown above, this battle was indeed fought during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 salary negotiations which were deadlocked resulting in litigation.

Not only that. Government has taken away the administration of the Government Enabled Motor Vehicle Aid Schemes (GEMVAS) from trade unions; taken away the right to strike away from teachers, inter alia, by declaring them as essential service employees; and dismissed some BOFEPUSU leaders, for instance, BOFEPUSU’s Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa.

Obviously in an act of vengeance, government attempted to frustrate some BOFEPUSU leaders by transferring them to departments not related to their professions. An example is government’s April 2016 attempt to transfer BOFEPUSU president, Johannes Tshukudu, from his position as Senior Lecturer at Tlokweng College of Education to the Ministry of Transport and Communication as Chief Administration Officer, which was interdicted by the courts.      

Still with respect to relations with government, BOFEPUSU and, by extension, the workers stand to lose in that government, in retribution, is likely to enact laws and make policies that are adverse to unions and workers. As shown above, this actually obtained as evidenced by government’s declaration of teaching, among other professions, as an essential service, effectively taking the right to strike away from them in an attempt to weaken the trade unions’ impact in the event there is a public sector strike.

Recently, government published a Bill seeking to amend the Public Service Act, 2008. Among the proposed amendments are making DPSM the PSBC Secretariat; taking the power of adjudicating disciplinary cases from the PSBC to the Permanent Secretary to the President(PSP) and restricting salary deductions to union subscriptions to the exclusion of such amenities as funeral cover and loan repayments.

Owing to the political pressure that BOFEPUSU’s UDC endorsement may bring to bear on government, BOFEPUSU may benefit because government may accede to its proposals during negotiations. Also, government may, in an effort to outclass the UDC and to placate the workers, initiate terms and conditions of service which are favorable to workers.

For instance, following the deadlock of the 2014/15 salary negotiations, government unilaterally implemented positive terms and conditions of service. These included expanding housing loans to include top earners; interest free salary advances for low bracket employees; and increasing the GEMVAS loan repayment period from 10 years to 20 years.

BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC is also likely to alienate its current and prospective partners and funders. Prospective partners and funders who are apolitical and do not want their political allegiance exposed will most likely disassociate with BOFEPUSU.

Antithetical to that, BOFEPUSU may gain the partners and funders who are pro-UDC and/or are not afraid of the BDP’s retribution. The reality, though, is that the gains may be outweighed by the losses considering that most significant prospective partners and funders are unlikely to support an opposition political party or coalition.

As evidenced by South Africa’s case, the political party that a trade union endorses is not necessarily always pro-labour. For instance, despite being in an alliance with the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the African National Congress (ANC) has developed laws, policies and projects which are anti-labour.

An example is the toll gate project which the ANC implemented despite opposition from COSATU. Not only that. The ANC has failed to outlaw labour brokering despite COSATU’s opposition to it. The relationship between COSATU and the ANC has soured, mainly because of COSATU’s calls for President Jacob Zuma to resign because of allegations of his capture by the Gupta family, to the extent that COSATU recently barred president Zuma from addressing any of its gatherings.  

Therefore, BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC does not guarantee support for the workers’ agenda. This notwithstanding, just like many ANC policies are pro- labour, the UDC may, in the main, develop pro- labour policies because of BOFEPUSU’s endorsement.

BOFEPUSU’s endorsement and subsequent collaboration with the UDC may result in conflict and splits. As stated above, though not all BOPEU members were opposed to BOFEPUSU’s decision to endorse the UDC, some were and the endorsement is one of the reasons why BOPEU disaffiliated from BOFEPUSU.

Similarly, not all BOFEPUSU members are in support of BOFEPUSU’s decision to endorse the UDC. This may result in a split in BOFEPUSU, especially if the UDC betrays the workers. In South Africa, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) withheld its subscriptions from COSATU and was ultimately expelled partly because it was of the view that the alliance with the ANC was no longer beneficial to workers.

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started


  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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