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Is BOPEU a union of choice or enemy of the workers?

BOPEU leaders
Following the recent fallout between Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) in their four-year marriage of convenience, skeletons are starting to tumble out, and the battlefield is now set between the two.

The acrimony between BOFEPUSU and the Employer at the Public Service Bargaining Council is what many of us have long expected and in my previous articles I have given insightful information regarding the strange relationship between government, (the employer) and BOPEU and the union and President in particular.

Before going further in analysing and critiquing the subject matter above, I have to reiterate my previous firm position that the withdrawal or disintegration of BOPEU from BOFEPUSU is not a decision of the union or its general membership, but rather, a decision of Comrade Andrew Motsamai and his supporters.

There is no resolution which was ever made at any of BOPEU gatherings, either be Governing Council and/or the just ended National Elective Congress, which directed that the union should withdraw its membership from the BOFEPUSU. I challenge Comrade Motsamai and his associate, Comrade Topious Marenga, who is now union employee, to avail to the press extracts of the minutes where the decision was taken and the actual resolution to proof their case.

It is really embarrassing for a union, which claims to be a union of choice for the entire public service employees, with such massive economic wealth, to take an adverse decision of withdrawing its membership from BOFEPUSU for the reason that it was requested to increase its subscription fee per member by P2. This is part of its legal obligations and more importantly, for the benefit of the workers.

The latest developments, which I believe are timely and welcome, is that BOFEPUSU acquired status and recognition of being the second national federation by international standard. These new developments give the federation absolute right to fully participate in national and international forums such as International Labour Organisation (ILO) conferences and the tripartite structures with government without necessarily going through the auspices of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), of which BOPEU is its affiliate member.


Bopeu president is an opportunist

The President of BOPEU has developed an attitude and tendency of taking unilateral decisions, which have the potential of dividing the workers in the public service, under the pretext that he has the power and authority to act as he wishes and in the best interest of BOPEU members. 

No consultations were ever made with the general masses, and properly constituted union structures taking in cognizance the magnitude of the matter at hand and the negative impact of the withdrawal from the sectorial federation and in particular at the Bargaining Council.

The decision taken was personal and it had ulterior motives, because its intent was not for the benefit of BOPEU members, or the workers, but rather was pursued for the union President’s political ambitions. 


Challenges facing workers

The working class in Botswana is faced with serious challenges and the most recent and visible challenge is on how union leaders administer the movement and their decision-making.

BOPEU has a constitution, which governs the conduct of its national executive committee, the president and the membership. Union members’ expectations are that the union policy formulation and the decision-making process must reside in the hands of the general membership.

In exercising his administrative prerogative or functions, the union president must confine himself to the constitution, resolutions of the general membership as well as the mandate of BOPEU which is to protect, maintain and guide members in strategic planning and proper decision-making. The president should not to serve as an agent of government.

The president of BOPEU has divorced his legal duty and he does not have the aspirations and interests of members at heart, the interest which is to unite the workers to speak with one voice. Like I have stated at the end of the year in the local newspapers, Comrade Motsamai is an enemy of the workers because lately he opposes the ideology of uniting the workers.

BOPEU President does not take advice from his fellow comrades within the NEC. He only takes advice from, and associates only with, those who were sympathetic to him.

There is undeniable fact

based on the relationship between Comrade Motsamai and some government officials, that he now serves the interests of the employer and not of BOPEU members, who are currently working under deteriorating conditions of service.


Concealed information/ truth

In October 2015, I wrote an article in the Mmegi under the subject heading “Is BOPEU Planning to stand alone at PSBC”. In the said article I hinted that BOPEU is likely to form or establish a coalition with non-admitted minority unions and/or merge with BTU to meet the required (1/3) threshold for admission in terms of clause 6.1 as read together with 6.1.1 of PSBC Constitution and my warning was taken lightly.

It was also alleged during the 2014/15 negotiations that a secret deal was agreed of merging BTU and BOPEU and BOPEU President and BTU General Secretary facilitated the exercise.

It therefore did no come as a surprise to me and many who have the information to that effect when comrade Ibo Kenosi attacked BOFEPUSU leadership in his campaign for Comrade Motsamai during the union’s 2015 national elective congress.

Further to the above, BOPEU president and one union official had on the March 23, 2015 met with some government official wherein certain concessionaries were entered into.

The current stand-off between the employer party and the union party at the Bargaining council, in my view is a result of alleged secret deals between BOPEU/BTU and BOPEU and government and in particular between Motsamai and government.

There is nothing wrong with the government and any trade union to have a clean relationship, which is based on legal framework and the tripartite relationship. I have a serious problem however, when a union leader turns himself into a spy of the employer.

Unions have a legal duty to participate freely in socio-political policy formulation and development of labour legislation and the promotion of labour rights in the country. Other organisational rights that trade unions and federations at national level enjoy include recognition and participation in the tripartite structures.


Required (1/3) threshhold at PSBC

It is imperative for BOPEU president to swallow his pride and return to working in harmony with other union leaders and the National Umbrella Federation in their endeavours to improve the working conditions of employees across the spectrum.

BOPEU members should be made aware of the fact that their union has at least 30,000 members and out of that, around 6,000 members are parastatal employees, whilst another 3,000 or so members have dual membership of various unions being BOPEU, Manual Workers Union, BLLHAHWU BOSETU BTU, BONU and TAWU. The actual membership of BOPEU is approximately 21,000, the figure which is not sufficient and far from the expected 28,000 threshold for admitting a trade union at the bargaining council.

Based on the figures above, there is no how BOPEU alone can be admitted at the Bargaining Council and its expulsion from the joint admission will be a catastrophe to its members.

 BOPEU leadership must know and appreciate that negotiations are not all about an increase in wages. Negotiations also encompass advocating for change in employment policies and labour legislation including the constitution of the republic to conform to international standards and practices and this can only be achieved when workers/unions are united and speaking with one voice. Unity is strength and no man is an island.  Fragmentation of trade unions, rivalry and continued divisions is unwarranted and must be condemned with the strongest possible terms by visionary unionists and the community as whole.

I therefore urge my fellow comrades in struggle and in particular BOPEU members to rise to the occasion and take control of their union. They must ensure that they make objective decisions about the future of their union and its leadership before it is too late.

PS: These are personal views and comments of the author and are not of any union, federation or institution with which he may be a member with good standing.

Patle is a reformist unionist based in Gaborone. E-mail:

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