With only a few months left before the general elections, the embattled Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU) is threatened with implosion after it was infiltrated by political interests who have switched on a ticking time bomb right at the heart of the federation.
Sunday Standard can reveal that all is not well at BOFEPUSU, and the once mighty labour federation, that was once unanimously against the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and President Ian Khama , now has to deal with threats of divisions fuelled by its staunch pro-opposition stance. In the latest developments, the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) has broken ranks with the federation, quashing its famous chants for regime change and declaring that its mandate is to represent workers rights and not engage in political gimmicks. President Ian Khana’s administration has in the past tried to coerce BOFEPUSU leaders to desist from politicking and concentrate on advocating for workers rights.
Cracks emerged at the recent Labour Day commemorations, when BOFEPUSU was forced to water down its radical theme of the day in the face of increasing dissent from some of its affiliates who asked why the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was not invited while opposition party cadres sat at the top table. In fact BOFEPUSU’s top brass started engaging in public spats on the weekend prior to the heated Labour Day commemorations, at the launch of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) candidate General Pius Mokgware. A senior member of BOFEPUSU, Samuel Molaodi, announced that the federation would support the UDC during the general elections.
Some BOFEPUSU affiliates were incensed, saying the federation has never collectively agreed on who they should support for the general elections. Some asked whether BOFEPUSU was declaring war on the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which was not part of the UDC. Interestingly, one of BOFEPUSU’s former firebrands, Goretese Kekgonegile, is a parliamentary candidate in Maun East under the BCP ticket. Did Molaodi’s announcement imply that BOFEPUSU would not be supporting their comrade in arms in the general elections?
BOFEPUSU affiliates could also not agree on the theme of the workers day celebrations. The initial theme, “unleashing a progressive labour agenda through influencing regime change” was eventually watered down to “unleashing a progressive agenda” and the “regime change” appendage removed as it was deemed offensive to some within the federation. Only the ruling BDP was not invited to the Labour Day celebrations, and BOPEU was not amused, eventually boycotting the celebrations. BOPEU insists that BOFEPUSU should not forget that its affiliates belong to different political parties, including the BDP. In an interview with Sunday Standard, BOFEPUSU secretary general Tobokani Rari said the leadership had resolved that all political parties will be invited to the federation’s events. He refuted allegations that BOFEPUSU deliberately omitted to invite BDP to the Labour Day celebrations, saying even opposition parties were not invited.
But BOFEPUSU insiders dismissed Rari’s claim that opposition parties were not invited, saying they were reserved seats at the federation high table and introduced to the crowd as representatives of their respective political parties. Sunday Standard can also reveal that the car on which the public address system was mounted belonged to Botswana National Front (BNF) councillor for Bontleng, Olebogeng Kemelo.
Asked why they boycotted the Labour Day celebrations, BOPEU secretary general Topius Marenga said they could not be party to a clearly partisan undertaking. He revealed that BOPEU expressed dissatisfaction with the theme before May Day as they felt the federation could not be talking regime change when some of its members are pro- BDP. Their requests for the theme to be watered down hit a snag and the federation leadership insisted that BOPEU had been overruled as it was in the minority.
“They told us that the theme stands because we were in the minority as most members were in agreement. So we chose not to attend the commemorations because we didn’t want to divide our members. You see, BOPEU is a non-partisan trade union,” said Marenga.
He explained that BOPEU is only interested in representing its members and not politicking and would therefore not entertain chants about regime change. Subsequent efforts by BOFEPUSU to lure BOPEU balk by watering down the theme of the day drew a blank, as BOPEU claimed it was too late for them to adequately prepare for the May Day commemorations.