The opposition parties’ efforts to forge unity among Botswana’s feuding trade unions were derailed last week after it emerged that the rival unions are poised for a bare-knuckled legal brawl involving a P 1.2 million defamation claim.
The Telegraph is informed that opposition party leaders have been working behind the scenes to diffuse the long running battle between the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) and Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU). The lawsuit will put a spanner in the works and thwart the opposition’s peace keeping efforts.
BOFEPUSU recently slapped the Vice President of the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Edward Tswaipe, with a demand for P 1.25 million in damages for defamation. BOFEPUSU alleges that Tswaipe made defamatory allegations against them in the August 23rd edition of the Botswana Gazette.
Tswaipe was quoted accusing the five trade unions that are affiliated to BOFEPUSU of colluding with DPSM to exclude TAWU and BOGOWU from inclusion in the public service bargaining council. Tswaipe is also quoted as saying BOFEPUSU decided to abort the recent public sector strike and accept the 3 percent salary increase on condition that the bargaining council is registered, with the exclusion of TAWU and BOGOWU. Through their lawyer, Tshiamo Rantao, BOFEPUSU maintains that Tswaipe’s words are false and defamatory.
“BOFEPUSU never colluded with DPSM to exclude TAWU and BOGOWU from bargaining. In any case, BOGOWU has been deregistered and cannot claim to have any right to bargain with DPSM. BOFEPUSU has never proposed to accept the 3 percent salary increment so that the bargaining council can be registered,” said Rantao.
He further accused Tswaipe of uttering and causing the publication of the defamatory word with the sole intention of damaging BOFEPUSU’s reputation and lowering their status in society.
“Our clients have suffered damages in the sum of P250 000 each. Our clients thus demand that you publish an unconditional apology, and pay them a total of P1.25 million, failing which we will issue summons against you at the High Court,” said Rantao.
Tswaipe did not hesitate to retaliate, and released a scathing statement indicating that they are ready to defend.
“The ball is in their court, we are prepared to go all the way. I stand by the words I spoke. BOFEPUSU affiliates are being favoured by government, and they colluded with government to exclude TAWU and BOGOWU from the bargaining council. We know they held secret meetings with government,” said Tswaipe.
He accused BOFEPUSU of trying to distract TAWU from opposing the registration of the bargaining council. He said BOFEPUSU’s recent actions will undermine and derail the peace efforts between BOFEPUSU and BFTU, which were gaining ground among the workers. He said BOFEPUSU likes to instill fear on their victims and believe they can intimidate anybody who disagrees with them.
“But we would rather be thrown into the fire than to bow to this false image that craves for worship from everybody. We accept this latest persecution from the people who are supposed to be on our side of the table, which goes to show who they really are. It is strange for BOFEPUSU to target a single unionist, no matter how much they hate him,” said Tswaipe.
He accused Johnson Motshwarakgole of launching personal attacks on him on various occasions, saying he chose to absorb the venomous attacks with the hope that one day the movement would re-unite.
“We would like to caution them though. If they are a big tree, we are a small axe. If they are a Goliath, we are a David,” warned Tswaipe.