Vice President Ian Khama and other Cabinet ministers have been caught in the crossfire of warring trade unions.
The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) and the Botswana Teachers’ Union executive members revealed this week that the government was sponsoring a rival trade union and accused Cabinet of divide and rule tactics in a bid to weaken the union movement in Botswana.
The ink on the announcement by the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and the Amalgamated Manual Workers Union that they would form a splinter public sector union to rival the BFTU had hardly dried when Vice President Ian Khama, Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Minister Daniel Kwelagobe, Trade and Industry Minister Neo Moroka, Permanent Secretaries Eric Molale and Serwalo Tumelo and other top government officials graced the recent BOPEU congress.
Members of the rival unions under BFTU who claim government officials always snub their invitations are accusing Cabinet of taking sides with BOPEU.
BFTU president, Jephta Radibe, pointed out that while other unions are expected to provide own transport for delegates and invited dignitaries, the government provided transportation and accommodation for BOPEU delegates and invited dignitaries.
“You can imagine how much of the taxpayers money is spent in providing transport and lodging expenses for all those government officials while the same treatment is denied other labour movements,” Radibe said.
He further pointed out that the government propaganda machinery ÔÇô the Daily News, Botswana Television and Radio – were all mobilized to give the BOPEU congress coverage and declared a media black out on congresses of other unions.
The Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), which is an affiliate of the BFTA, was recently embroiled in a bitter tussle with the Director of Teaching Service Management, Opelo Makhandlela, after he announced that he would not be attending their national congress in Kasane because of a tight work schedule.
Radibe read sinister motives in Makhandlela’s excuse and asked for the intervention of Education Minister, Jacob Nkate, and MoE Permanent Secretary, Festinah Bakwena. Makhandlela would not attend the congress and instead sent his deputy, Phillip Tsumake, to the congress.
Radibe said that government officials have always shunned their events as they knew that they would be hauled over hot coals as workers took them to task over government’s flawed policies.
He said that government has always viewed teacher organizations like BTU as vigilantes and renegades because they are vocal about the ill-treatment that is meted out to them and always expose the corruption and maladministration within government. “Unlike other labour movements who suck up to our corrupt government, we will remain steadfast in the fight for our membership’s rights,” he said in defiance.
The BTU president, however, said that he could not fault BOPEU as a labour movement saying that the blame lies squarely on government as it is, as usual, employing its divide and rule and discriminatory tactics in a bid to sow seeds of discord in the labour movement by meting out preferential treatment to other labour movements.
Commenting on the issue, BFTU Secretary General, Gadzani Mhotsha, said that the recent developments are a cause for concern as they only serve to polarize and weaken the labour movement.
Mhotsha said that, if analyzed closely, BOPEU’s past statements would lend credit to their thinking that they are actually a government sponsored institution. He said that efforts to get BOPEU, as a public service union, to affiliate to the BFTU have always drawn a blank as the former indicated that they would not want to be associated with the federation as that would jeopardize their relationship with their employer, government.