A day after he was launched as Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidate for Gaborone Bonnington South, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa swapped his royal blue suit for the red, blue and white colours of the Botswana Land boards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU).
On Monday, July 8 Motshegwa as BLLAHWU Secretary General shot salvos at government for delaying public service salary increments by negotiating with public sector unions in bad faith.
This dual role playing of being a unionist and an aspirant to hold political office by Motshegwa has caused consternation at BLLAHWU and sowed divisions within the Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU).
For a while now, BLLAHWU President Thatayaone Kesebonye has been under pressure to force Motshegwa to resign as union members feel that his UDC candidacy compromises the integrity of the union.
“It is not right for Motshegwa to continue hosting press briefings while he is a parliamentary candidate. Clearly he is using his position to further the interests of the UDC. Some of us are not UDC supporters and we expect him to negotiate with government on our behalf and in good faith,” said some irate BLLAHWU members.
They said Motshegwa’s dual role playing endangers salary negotiations as he could be accused of negotiating in bad faith and politicizing the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).
“This same behavior previously led to the collapse of the PSBC, whose very existence is anchored on a harmonious relationship between government, unions and public officers. We don’t want politicians to highjack our struggle. Motshegwa must just resign,” they said.
But Motshegwa has scoffed at those who say by virtue of being an aspiring political candidate his activism as a unionist may be compromised.
“I am dismayed by the confusion. In 2014 BOFEPUSU supported the UDC. There was no talk that we would be compromised. Johnson Motshwarakgole remained active as a trade unionist while at the same time he was a BNF councilor for Kgale. Motshwarakgole was nominated by the UDC as a specially elected Member of Parliament in 2014 and he accepted the nomination. Chairman of Business Botswana Leta Mosienyane is a known BDP activist. Was his tenure at Business Botswana construed that he was there to serve the interests of the ruling party? The late Utlwanng Matlhabaphiri (May his soul rest in peace) was a unionist of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions while he was actively involved in the Botswana Democratic Party politics. Carter Masire a BDP activist is chairman at Air Botswana, Comma Serema is a board member of BOCRA” said Motshegwa.
“The International Labour Organisation Constitution says trade unions can participate in politics. To stand for elections is a Constitutional right. I am exercising my Constitutional right as a Motswana” he said.
He listed countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Germany the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries where a thin line exists between unionism and politics.
Former BLLAHWU Deputy Secretary General Kealeboga Dipogiso however feels there is nothing wrong with Motshegwa’s dual roles as long as members’ interests are accurately represented at the Bargaining Council.
“The negotiations at the Bargaining Council are based on the demands of union members. What the people’s representative does at the negotiation table should be in accordance with the rep’s mandate as a union representative and not as a politician,” Dipogiso says. He says the problem arises when the representative loses sight of their union responsibilities.
In March this year, Motshegwa announced that he will contest for Gaborone Bonnington South against Alliance for Progressives (AP) President Ndaba Gaolathe and Christian Ntuba of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The announcement was viewed as a tactical move by the UDC to enhance its appeal to workers and trade unions, following a fall out with BOFEPUSU.
Following Motshegwa’s declaration BOFEPUSU issued a press statement indicating that it had decided not to endorse any political party in the 2019 general elections. The federation further clarified that it had not deployed any of its cadres to contest the general elections.
BOFEPUSU insiders have revealed that the matter has caused serious conflicts within the BOFEPUSU Governing Council, as the federation has also refused to lend financial support to Motshegwa’s campaign.
“Motshegwa and BLLAHWU are not happy because an endorsement would have given them a huge boost. They even stayed away from this year’s May Day celebrations in protest,” said a source from within BOFEPUSU.
The federation’s fall out with the UDC followed Ndaba Gaolathe & Co’s decision to leave the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), resulting in the formation of the AP.
BOFEPUSU’s decision not to endorse any political party was in stark contrast to the 2014 scenario, when the federation played a key role in the formation of the UDC and bankrolled its campaign. The fallout played out in public when BOFEPUSU Labour Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole declared his support for the AP.
Motshegwa’s candidature has also caused a rift within the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) amid allegations that he was recruited at the expense of long serving BNF activist Moses Bantsi. Following Motshegwa’s announcement, Bantsi wrote a scathing letter to the BNF leadership in which he accused Secretary General Moeti Mohwasa of favouritism and resigned from the party’s Election Board.
To date, the UDC campaign machinery in Gaborone Bonnington South is reportedly marred with divisions as those who are in support of Bantsi have stayed away in disgust.
“I have personally endured this bully behaviour in meetings and in my interaction with Party employees. This has been manifested in the manner in which Mohwasa handled the allocation of Gaborone Bonnington South Constituency to BOFEPUSU after his lackeys failed to get him endorsed for that seat. The constituency committee debated the matter at length and resolved to have me declared the unopposed Party candidate for that constituency,” read Bantsi’s letter.