By the time this article is out, the Shandukani Hlabano-led labour college at the African Mall would have received good tidings from the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA).
This would give the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU)-owned labour and employment college accreditation for their numerous learning programmes, paving the way for the first ever labour college in the country. It would start offering the unique labour and industrial relations courses for the Botswana labour and employment market.
As we get ready for the interview, the college’s principal Hlabano, a seasoned trade unionist and educationist, is overheard talking to the college’s chairperson over the phone, updating him on the impending good news expected from the BQA this week; that is the accreditation of their learning programmes.
Fourteen months ago, the college received the BQA accreditation for the institute, but it has been a long wait for the accreditation of its learning programmes since then.
“It is the one thing I had been following since my appointment. It has been a hassle not only to us, but also to everyone really, since the accreditation process is new to this country. It had been time-consuming, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The BQA is doing its all to help us and we are optimistic that in a matter of days, we would announce the good news to our prospective clients,” Hlabano said with confidence.
He said in the meantime, his institute is busy taking the college to potential development partners, both at home and abroad, with the possibility of enabling the institute to carry out one of its strategic functions - the research function.
“We exist to carry out research on topical national issues and also publish those findings, but research is a very expensive exercise that requires a lot of funding from development partners,” he explains before adding that the college’s other main responsibility to the community of Botswana is to host seminars on topical issues.
Their short courses cover a wide range of industrial relations topics including stress management in the workplace, conflict management and dispute resolution in the workplace, labour issues and good governance, principles of collective bargaining council, amongst others.
A holder of a Masters Degree from Northampton University, the married father and respected trade union activist said other issues that he had been preoccupied with since he took office in March include development of curriculum, issues of compliance.
“I’m hoping by this week we might have something in terms of positive response from the authority; if your programmes are not accredited, you cannot start. Our main focus of our training will be labour and employment, mainly trade union leaders, the shop stewards, locally and in the region, training on issues of mediation of contracts of employment, labour laws and trade unionism as well as medium term programmes such as diploma in labour
Hlabano, also the former head of the secretariat of the now defunct Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), said he wants to see what he terms industrial peace, where like-minded institutions work together for the attainment of the common good for all as opposed to inward looking. “We see this as inservice training for the workers, and it would be open to all. That is the bigger picture. Africa cannot grow without considering the bigger picture, the things that unite us, rather than divide us.”
Hlabano is largely seen as a unifying factor in the trade union movement since his days at BOSETU where he was the glue that bound together the previously antagonistic teacher trade unions.
He is glad that he joins the college at a time when relations between BOPEU, the labour college promoters, and Botswana Federation of Public Private Parastatals Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) have thawed, thanks to the commendable efforts of both unions’ leadership.
“Those who know me well, see me as a non-partisan person, I’m not for party politics. My philosophy is that trade unions are more stable as institutions than any political party, until the trade union lowers itself to the partisan agenda; for that reason I’m not an activist of any party, and never have I been in the past. I’m a patriot. Individualistic mentality is holding back Africa’s development agenda. We need to realise that and concentrate on the bigger picture and be proud of ourselves as Africans.
“You see in life there will always be stuff that separate us and stuff that brings us together. I prefer that as Africans wishing to prosper together, we rather focus on those agendas that bring us together, and that I’m not pretentious about. I’m like my father, he taught us to lift our community and care for the members like they are our own; there is one lesson I would never forget, I used to grow marvelling at one neighbour of ours who was wealthy, only to learn later during my father’s old age that, that our neighbour’s wealth actually belonged to my father and to us, all along, but father had chosen to empower a fellow community member with it for decades, just to help lift him up. I have learnt that as Africans we have the duty to support and enrich one another, and not sabotage,” the philosophically inclined Hlabano said.