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Why BOFEPUSU disengages from 2019 General Elections

Publishing Date : 21 October, 2019

Author : CDE MPHO MARUPING

World over, trade unions are known to be the voice of people’s aspirations, particularly when labour is confronted by political opportunists, as is the case now in Botswana. Circumstances bordering on authoritarianism, dictatorship, unilateralism, populism and undemocratic regimes prompt trade unions to partner with political parties to usher democratic dispensation.


African countries have gone through different political engagements with political parties, which Botswana trade unions have so far evolved only through two phases. According to South African emeritus professor Eddie Webster there are four types of political party and trade union partnerships. Botswana as a country has moved through two different partnership types, which were evidenced in 2014 and 2019 general elections, respectively.


The first phase occurred in 2014 General Elections when Bofepusu made a public pronouncement to rally behind Umbrella Democratic Congress (UDC). BOFEPUSU backed the UDC comprising of three opposition political parties in their pursuit to upstage BDP, which has been in power since independence. Bofepusu had a backing of public workers normally at loggerhead with the government for not heeding to their call of improving conditions of services. 2014 General elections saw the opposition ushering an increased number of opposition parliamentarians due to Bofepusu support. The union further declared war on the BCP for allegedly betraying the opposition parties’ cooperation project, for staying put of opposition conglomeration.  The Federation said it wanted to end the BDP’s alleged abuse of the working class. (WeekendPost, Botswana, 2014).


Trade union leaders worked with the opposition by attending meetings and probably covert financial support. South African Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and African National Congress (ANC) coalition is more advanced than of Bofepusu and UDC, which was more cordial and emotive based. Bofepusu leadership remained confident that once UDC attain power, they will be rewarded with political positions as characterised by political parties and trade union partnerships across the globe. Equally, the UDC then has enticed the Federation leadership into governance structures. Further trade union iconic figure Comrade Andrew Motsamai was lured to contest for Gaborone Central constituency, which he declined due to uncertain elections outcome.


Immediately after BOFEPUSU’s realisation, the Federation embarked on Thabathula retreat, ultimately undertaking a decision to, “Appointment of Political Lobby and Advocacy group/team (PLAG).” The group was to identify specific issues of national interest, make robust research, formulate sound position papers and identify legislators capable to motivate motions at National Assembly or find a public figure capable to effect change in a communal domain. The group had to make visitations to various workplaces to address and influence members take decisions that are of national interest.

Even to pressurise legislators or the government against taking specific conclusions. The group had to work independently from the leadership for it to perfectly work well without undue duress. Over time, the leadership disregarded the idea of PLAG on the basis of simply being clouded with excessive powers. The leadership was so consumed with powers that they adopted a common-sense approach to tackle issues of national interest.


The main reason why Bofepusu enters 2019 General Elections as a feeble player, is due to inability to execute their establishment mandate. Firstly, the Federation vowed to, “Formulate and promote comprehensive workers agenda with full participation of workers themselves.” A deliberate attempt to a collective decision making has been a far-fetched reality for the Federation. There have been insignificant attempts by the Federation to source decisions from affiliate members when the organisation was confronted with dilemmas, especially the furfure surrounding Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). There had been snippets of occasions where the Federation converged special congresses to get resolutions over salary negotiation saga. Sadly, decisions were normally concluded by the leadership and members cajoled to accept agreements relayed by influential leaders.  


Similarly, Thabathula declaration motivated that the Federation, “Will not affiliate to any political party but vote as a block.” Unfortunately this strategic perspective was side-lined immediately after the leadership crossed the border back into the country. No matter how the Federation sounds smart and cunningly they had taken a stubborn stance to align to UDC during 2014 National Elections. The leadership published a hit-list comprising of unwanted political enemies of the struggle. Messages were spread across the country not to cast votes for the earmarked political culprits. The leadership publicly pronounced that Bofepusu has taken a decision to support UDC and urged its members to add weight to the opposition party.


Major causality of 2014 hit list included Dumelang Saleshando whose party BCP was punished for not forming an opposition coalition. Daniel Kwelagobe for BDP also lost his constituency as he was part of the hit list. All Bofepusu affiliates bar Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) backed the UDC. Bopeu distanced itself from the position, citing their public service obligation to serve under any political party in government.


BOFEPUSU leadership took a bold decision to rally behind UDC because they wanted a regime change, which Khama led government disregarded the PSBC by taking unilateral decisions to the detrimental of workers. Additional the employer through their mandate givers, disregarded BOFEPUSU’s proposals and never acceded to the demands despite economic burdens. “Any political party that appears to accede to workers’ demands will be rewarded with block votes by the Federation,” so says the Federation leadership. The UDC then, resonated with Bofepusu hence massive support towards a conglomeration of a political party.


Astonishingly, 2019 General Elections has taken another twist, Bofepusu leadership finds itself disintegrated amongst different political parties, which exacerbates the Federation leadership from taking a stance to support a political party. Unlike the 2014 General Elections were the whole Bofepusu leadership was behind UDC, this year’s elections brings another dilemma. The better part of Bofepusu leadership are Alliance for Progressives (AP) sympathisers, which has ditched the UDC due to matters bordering on principle, others support the BDP President Dr. MEK Masisi, who is seen as a messiah because of his nationalistic stances. In the mist of the leadership others are still clinging onto UDC.


BOFEPUSU UDC supporters have disdain for the current leadership, since they view them as sell-outs because of their stance to exonerate themselves from political alignment. Others in leadership think their counterparts are dishonest for not rallying behind Masisi’s BDP because he has shown tolerance towards workers by affording them negotiation space and affording assured consecutive salary hikes for the year 2019/2020. Though Masisi has shown snippets of good relations with workers organisations, such as acceding to their salary demands, his government has failed dismally to facilitate for resuscitation of the bargaining council.  The proMasisi faction strongly believes that those anti him are being dishonest as the leadership has vowed to support any political party which appears to favour labour.


The opposing faction that supports the UDC postulates that it is not a matter of an individual accolades rather it is about his political party that has poor historical relationship with trade unions. The Federation is fragmented moving towards the general elections, the lowly paid bracket, mainly comprising of Manual Workers Union constituents, have vowed to cast a vote for Masisi’s party because of the P500 increment after PEMANDU talks conclusions. Others have sheer disdain for the former President who supports the UDC, and consequently opt to support Masisi’s party.


All these quandaries prompted Bofepusu to take a stance of not supporting any political party for the sake of saving faces, as they would have no answers to provide. But one may conclude that for now Bofepusu leadership are too sceptical to move with the UDC, would rather live with the devil they have wrestled with than the angel that promises better social-economic and pro-labour alternatives.

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