The Botswana Railways Workers Union has forced management to reopen an insults case more than a year after senior-manager-combatants had a go at each other at a meeting. And so last Thursday, a disciplinary hearing panel convened at the Botswana Railways headquarters in Mahalapye to consider circumstances that led to a manager hurling a six-letter Setswana insult that begins with ‘s’ at a director. This occurred during a heated exchange at an executive management meeting in 2009 called to discuss important company business.
At the time of the incident, the respondent was acting as a departmental director thus being temporarily on par with the officer he would later hurl insults at when tempers got frayed. The face-off is said to have started when the substantive director rubbished the acting director’s presentation by saying he was ‘lying.’ The latter took offence and asked the chairperson to get his colleague to retract his words. When that did not happen, the aggrieved party hit back with a commonly used Setswana insult that refers to a backside excretory orifice. Phonetically, the word’s most devastating emotional payload is in the bilabial explosion of the second syllable. One imagines that in that heated boardroom exchange, the insult would have been expressed with all that vociferousness.
The backstory is that the two men belong to opposing managerial factions within the organisation. A source says on really bad days, professionalism easily finds its way out of the window when these factions clash.
In terms of BR’s rules, a disciplinary hearing should have followed but a whole year and some months passed until the Union resuscitated the matter. The inspiration for the Union’s action relates to two disciplinary cases involving a senior manager who was suspended, and a junior officer who was expelled.
In the first case – which Sunday Standard reported earlier this year, a manager was put on administrative leave following allegations that he had acted inappropriately. It would seem that the investigation turned up nothing substantive enough to motivate criminal proceedings because that manager is now back at work.
The second case involves Thapelo Molefe, an officer who was fired after accusations by a colleague (a Mr. Makhokhoba) that he used derogatory language on him during routine telephonic communication about trains movement. Procedurally, such communication would have been recorded. During the hearings, Molefe insisted on the audio tape being played but the disciplinary hearing panel management balked and ultimately fired him. The matter ended up before Justice Gaongalelwe at the Lobatse High Court, with Molefe’s applying for the setting aside of the proceedings and the verdict reached. In the words of the court’s judgement, Molefe admitted ‘having used such words as bullshit while talking to Mr. Makhokhoba over the telephone.’ Justice Stephen Gaongalelwe set aside the dismissal and referred the matter back to BR for consideration of a less harsh punishment.
Then last year December, it happened that the minister of transport and communications, Frank Ramsden came to address BR employees who were more than eager to spill beans. One of the issues that the employees complained about was that some employees were treated with kid gloves and they gave as an example the case of a manager who insulted a director being allowed to go scot-free. The Union had also raised the issue with the permanent secretary a month earlier. The latter directed that the issue be re-opened, Sunday Standard learns.