Education Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi last week moved to end the acrimony that exists between her and teachers, calling for a cease fire and meaningful dialogue.
In a very rare development, Venson-Moitoi honoured an invitation to address the elective congress of the Botswana Sectors of Education Trade Unions (BOSETU), at which she committed herself to meaningful negotiations with trade unions.
Speaking to Sunday Standard on Friday, Venson-Moitoi confirmed that she met with the new BOSETU leadership on Monday.
“I had a very fruitful meeting with the new leadership. In fact, I had to wait for the elections so that I could meet the new committee to chart the way forward,” she said.
However, trade union insiders revealed that Venson-Moitoi was forced to suspend her departure after she experienced, first hand, the anger and disgruntlement that prevailed amongst teachers.
Political parties and trade union representatives from the Southern African Development Community attended the congress to pledge solidarity with BOSETU.
The tri-partite opposition alliance also sent a delegation led by Botswana National Front President Duma Boko.
Venson-Moitoi’s entourage included DPSM Director Festinah Bakwena and senior government officials.
BNF President Duma Boko addressed the congress and received a standing ovation and a resounding endorsement of his call for regime change. Union representatives from the SADC region said they have been watching the recent public sector strike with interest, and opined that Botswana’s leadership has reached a “thinking menopause”.
The anger and suggestions of regime change compelled Venson-Moitoi to change her itinerary and extend her stay at the congress, so that she could meet with the new leadership to pledge her allegiance and ask them to tone down their attacks on government.
“I was not impressed by the conduct of some of their members. One of them even called me a liar in front of everyone,” said Venson-Moitoi.
She, however, said she was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting, as BOSETU expressed willingness to work with her to further the education agenda.
“It must be noted from the onset that I am not part of the negotiating team that meets regularly with the trade unions. That is the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary and senior government officials. However, I do make time to meet with them for discussions,” she said.
Venson-Moitoi said she is worried that she has never met trade union leaders this year, after meeting them twice last year. She, however, explained that the situation was occasioned by the public sector strike and the numerous lawsuits that the two parties were grappling with.
“I have an excellent working relationship with BOSETU. We can achieve excellent results if we work together,” she said.
However, Sunday Standard is informed that all is not as rosy as Venson-Moitoi would like to put it. At the meeting Venson-Moitoi is said to have expressed discontent with the teachers’ apparent anti-government sentiments and their endorsement of Boko’s calls for regime change.
She was also unhappy with foreign trade union leaders’ suggestions that Botswana’s leadership has reached a “thinking menopause”.
She shot salvos at the media for souring relations between her and teachers, and particularly singled out Botswana Television for habitually misquoting her.
Venson-Moitoi called on the unions to tone down their attacks on government, and expressed her willingness to forge stronger working relations with them.
For their part, the union leaders asked Venson-Moitoi to reverse the classification of teachers as essential services, to which she explained that her hands are tied.
BOSETU Publicity Secretary Raymond Malinga expressed BOSETU’s willingness to work with government.
“We believe in negotiations. We must protect the teachers’ rights and also ensure that our children receive the best education under the best conditions,” he said.
However, it is doubtful if the lovey-dovey relationship between Venson-Moitoi and teachers will persevere. For starters, Venson-Moitoi failed to address the essential services issue, which has sent government on a collision course with trade unions.
The BOSETU congress resolved that they will not spare any costs in fighting their recent classification.