BOPEU have successfully halted a Khama style para-military bootcamp where over 300 of its members working as instructors at various technical and vocational institutions(TVET) were subjected to harsh military exercises at a training base in Matsiloje in recent weeks.
Under the regime of former president, Ian Khama the para-military style bootcamps had been institutionalised for Form IV’s, Form V’s, as well as other young people applying for funding from government departments.
Under the Khama regime, the young people would be subjected to military style trainings led by the army and conducted in far-flung areas away from the prying eyes of the media or the public.
It would seem the remnants of Khama style of leadership are still around in a big way as recently at another far-flung area of Matsiloje, the notorious military training reared its ugly head.
This time the teachers, and not the young people, were the victims, much to the shock of public sector trade union, BOPEU when they discovered that as many as 300 of their members were being subjected to the torturous exercises.
On Tuesday this week at a Francistown press conference, BOPEU announced that they had reached an agreement with the Attorney General for the bootcamp to stop immediately and that only those who voluntarily offer themselves for the military training could do so of their own volition.
Speaking at the press conference held at BOPEU regional headquarters, BOPEU Deputy General Secretary, Ketlhapeleng Karabo called on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to take decisive action against parties who sanctioned the para-military training exercise for their members.
Karabo said the organisations which sanctioned the para-military training on their members, which has no place in the public service, are a threat to the stability and democracy of Botswana.
He said that BOPEU would not allow the militarisation of the public service, adding that they condemn in the strongest possible terms the para-military training and those who sanctioned it.
Karabo said that on September 10 their members embarked upon what was said to be a life skills workshop at the Matsiloje Botswana Defence Force (BDF) military camp.
He stated that the workshop, which attracted 300 members, turned out to be a para-military training ordeal for their members.
He said that members who attended the workshop came from different vocational training institutions including Palapye, Selebi-Phikwe and Jwaneng.
A visibly irked Karabo stated that lecturers and trainers in Bricklaying, Mechanical Engineering, Welding and Carpentry attended the para-military training because it was compulsory.
He complained that there was no need for the para-military training that was conducted by soldiers in their full military regalia.
Karabo said as BOPEU they were deeply concerned with the choice of venue for the exercise and wondered how the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development failed to consult BOPEU over the controversial training and choice of venue.
He said that their members alerted them about the para-military training, which included military drills, parades and marching.
He indicated that the participants had to run 8km a day as part of their physical training.
As if that was not enough, Karabo said that the living conditions were
He said that their members were even punished for arriving late by being forced to collect litter around the camp and also coerced to roll around on the track.
“We could not ignore the numerous complaints coming from our members at the BDF facility. It is the reason BOPEU deployed me as the Deputy General Secretary to find ways of intervening and stopping the actions that the ministry, with BDF complicity, subjected our members to,” he said.
To make matters worse, Karabo said the ministry and BDF even denied the BOPEU leadership access to its members for consultations on the matter.
Karabo noted that as a registered trade union in terms of applicable legislation agreement between the union and Directorate of Public Service Management, they have the right to access, interact and address their members whenever there is an urgent workplace grievance.
He indicated that the refusal by the BDF members to allow BOPEU officials access to their members was an attempt by the ministry and the BDF to conceal the para-military exercise from the eyes of the public.
“There is no doubt that such para-military trainings are unlawful, unconstitutional and a threat to the nation’s peace and democracy,” he said.
He further said that there is no basis or justification for public servants to be subjected to para-military training in a military camp or anywhere whatsoever.
Karabo stated that BOPEU was wondering if it was a coincidence that the suspicious para-military exercise was conducted on the eve of the 2019 general elections.
He said that they do have reasons to suspect that some rogue elements within the ministry and BDF were planning to sabotage the State, adding that they were still wondering in whose interests the controversial training was carried out.
Karabo announced that following the impasse, their legal team issued a statutory notice of intention to sue the government and Attorney General Chambers (AGC) in order to stop the exercise. Fortunately, the matter was later settled out of court, he disclosed.
“The AGC made an undertaking that the para-military training at Matsiloje BDF Camp will cease forthwith. Further, those members who wish to participate in any physical exercise will only do so on a purely voluntary basis,” he said. Karabo further expressed hope that the BDF would respect and abide by the concessions made by the AGC.
He hailed the BOPEU legal team comprising David Olatotse, Musa Solomon and Kago Mokotedi who spent a sleepless night working on court papers to interdict the exercise.
He also appreciated the AGC, particularly counsel Ndiye Balule for acting swiftly in attending to the concerns raised by BOPEU.
In conclusion, Karabo believes that the positive engagement between BOPEU and AGC signalled a positive relationship, and hopes this will improve industrial relations in Botswana.