Mmegi Online :: BOFEPUSU undecided who to back at 2019 polls
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Last Updated
Friday 22 February 2019, 14:15 pm.
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BOFEPUSU undecided who to back at 2019 polls

FRANCISTOWN: One would have thought that by now, powerful labour unions like Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) would have decided which party to support at the 2019 polls.
By Chakalisa Dube Fri 08 Feb 2019, 12:58 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: BOFEPUSU undecided who to back at 2019 polls








This is the assumption on the bromance between President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s led government and trade unions.

BOFEPUSU secretary general, Tobokani Rari yesterday acknowledged that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) under the new leadership is warming up towards trade unions.

“There is eagerness to do things differently (by the current government). We however feel that a lot of ground needs to be covered. We are still not sure if the BDP government’s intensions are genuine,” he said.

Rari cited the government’s failure to resuscitate the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) as well as a recent court case in which the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) was seeking to de-recognise trade unions among factors that shows that there is need for government to do more in order to win the hearts of the workers.

“We have always maintained that our relationship with the UDC was not a permanently sealed relationship like that of the ANC and COSATU. In 2014 we took a decision to back the UDC based on its manifesto (in relation to the interests of the workers) and prevailing circumstances,” he added.

At their congress last year BOFEPUSU members mandated the leadership to review its relationship with the UDC and produce a report. Trade unionists met at a retreat in Mmathubudikwane late last year but could not complete the report. The report will be completed sometimes in March.

Rari added that the federation is yet to decide the party it will back at the next general elections. He was quick to highlight that a decision on whether to support any given party at the next general elections will be determined at the special governance council which will be held sometimes this year.

The special governance council will also discuss the UDC report. 

Depending on the prevailing circumstances there is also a possibility that BOFEPUSU members and some Batswana may vote without influence from the federation. The federation can also decide to put its weight behind individual candidates who have the interest of the workers at heart.

University of Botswana political science lecturer, Leonard Sesa said yesterday it was still early to predict how the political landscape would change.

“I think one of the strategies of the current administration is to restore relations that were dead under the previous administration. It is still early to predict how the political landscape will change (as a result of improving relations between unions and the BDP government,” said Sesa

“However, if the current administration continue showing willingness to negotiate and listen, this might give unions the impression that the current BDP leadership is worth being given a chance at the next general elections.” 

“Based on what I have seen so far, I assume that the level of hostility (by unions) towards the BDP will not be at the same level as that of the 2014 general elections and generally the Khama era.

This then means that the opposition especially the UDC will not entirely enjoy the support of the unions like in 2014. This will no doubt impact negatively on the fortunes of the UDC,” added the political analyst.

Sesa said for the current regime to win the hearts of the workers at the next polls, it has to demonstrate that its reformed attitude is not only done with a sole purpose of helping the ruling party to retain power at the next general elections.

“If unions develop a feeling that the BDP government’s warmth towards them is an arrangement that will not stand the test of time they will become hostile towards the party.

On the other hand If government demonstrates desire to

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maintain a long-term collaborative relationship with unions it will expectedly get the backing of the latter in various areas including the general elections,” he said. Sesa highlighted that it is unlikely that Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi will adopt a hard line stance towards unions should she be elected to lead BDP at the next general elections and even beyond. Venson-Moitoi is vying for the presidency of the BDP with Masisi.

When former president Ian Khama assumed the presidency in 2008, he developed antipathy to trade unions.

Khama’s animosity towards trade unions is well documented. Government under the Khama regime did not even comply with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions that she is a signatory to. The May 2011 mother of all strikes that crippled many government departments is perfect example of how his leadership treated trade unions as enemies of the State and not as equal partners in the development of the country.

Some members of the public trade sector unions were fired from work as a result of Khama’s disdain for trade unions. At one point the government appeared before the ILO where Botswana’s case with regards to contravening certain conventions of the latter were heard.  

Critics said that the Khama-led government had a hidden agenda to weaken labour movements. Because government and trade unions could not engage in a civil manner their differences were often resolved in court. BDP’s worst performance at the 2014 general elections was attributed to the harsh laws and regulations that were anti-workers.

The 2011 strike did not achieve the targeted 16% wage increment, but it raised the requisite political consciousness, not only among the workers, but also within the public, which is among factors that dented the popularity of the ruling party at the 2014 general elections.

At the height of the 2014 election campaign, BOFEPUSU, the country’s leading public sector federation openly mobilised the workers to vote for united opposition under the aegis of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

The federation argued that it was protecting the interest of its members and the tenets of democracy, which is why it wanted the ruling BDP out of power. At the 2014 general elections the opposition had crafted a manifesto that recognised workers as collaborative partners in the development of the country.

BOFEPUSU also reportedly backed the UDC financially in the last general elections. In most by-elections held post 2014, the federation also backed the UDC. Even after suffering humiliation at the 2014 general elections the BDP appeared not prepared to work with trade unions.

In 2017 the BDP shunned the idea to work closely with labour movements. The idea came as a recommendation from the then party secretary general Botsalo Ntuane, who was deeply worried by the waning relationship between trade unions and the party.

Fast forward to 2019, there is a perception that the current BDP government led by Masisi appears to be taking a path that favours honesty and transparency when dealing with trade unions.

The unions may not have achieved their targeted salary increment during the recent negotiations with government but the cordial atmosphere and transparent manner in which the talks were conducted was widely celebrated by some stakeholders including workers, trade union leaders and political pundits.

This heightened talk that the improving relations between government and unions might alter the country’s political landscape and compromise the prospect of the opposition at the general elections billed for October this year. Trade movements most particularly BOFEPUSU (which has often been seen to be critical of government) have even scaled down their criticism towards the BDP-led government.

 

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