Monday, July 4, 2022

Diamond Workers Union Congress aborted to avert split

The all-important  gathering of delegates representing employees of diamond manufacturing companies, except Diamond Trading Company Botswana,(DTCB), across the country, which was set to take place at the Big Five Lodge on Saturday and Sunday last week was aborted on realizing a huge crack hovered over the head of the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU).

It was decided to call off the congress on Saturday around 20 00 hours following opening session and Union solidarity messages early that day, hours after lengthy debates by delegates who cast aspersions on the integrity of the national leadership, saying they must be hiding something about what is really going in their union.

In his typical style, Jacob Mpasopi, General Secretary of BDWU, refused to say what the reasons for the abrupt change of course were, arguing that, “The Congress instructed that we keep the matter internal.”

What he could only confirm was that indeed the Congress had been deferred, and that it would reconvene shortly, although he refused to explain further.

The Sunday Standard was, however, hooped in on the goings on, thus, “The Congress, Rra, was very categorical. It demanded that the National Executive Committee ┬ágo and do what they have failed to do, namely to explore all practical measures and engage the DTCB leadership and general membership with a view to finding common ground.”

According to the source, who preferred anonymity for fear that she might be viewed as undermining efforts at reconciliation, it was also agreed that former members of the Botswana Diamond Sorters and Valuators Union (BDSVU), before it changed to accommodate their colleagues from the cutting and polishing companies, involved as mediators between BDWU and DTCB to avert what many said “would be an unfortunate situation”.

Initially, the NEC seemed to drag its feet on the idea of reconciliation,  claiming that the  renegades had refused that offer before, but when delegates upped the heat, it became apparent that some of them were ready to adopt any posture that would guarantee them positions in the future.

Current Assistant Minister of Health, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, an established Labour Consultant, Felix Lesetedi, and Edward Keloneilwe were some of the former members or veterans as they referred to them, who had pledged availability during the opening sessions earlier on.

Whilst, the DTCB Branch officials were not available to comment on the outcome of the Congress, it would appear the prospects of any conciliatory gesture on their part would depend largely on the removal of the present NEC in its entirety or acknowledgement by the national leadership that they failed to chart the union in the agreed path.

Kabelo Kelepile, the expelled Chairperson of the DTCB Branch and registered President of the newly conceived union whose proposed registration by the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers Organizations remains a subject of unceasing controversy, has hinted on what lay at the heart of their differences.

“Whilst for quite some time there was concern that the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU) has not lived up to its initial purpose for which the BDSVU was transformed, which was to enable a centralised bargaining platform, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the 2011 financial statement pointing to serious abuse of our subscriptions,” remarked Kelepile.
Investigations made by Sunday Standard have revealed how BDWU leaders and some members at DTCB had unfettered access to thousands of pula in loans that never got repaid.

Had the congress went on, it was expected to discuss a range of issues, including diamond security, occupational safety and health as well as the need for an over-arching structure for engaging diamond companies at one forum rather than separately over matters of common interest.

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