While the ‘comrades’ are quick to say disaffiliation is not an option, all indicators – from tone, to content – suggest the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) is fast reaching breaking point in its relationship with the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). A hotly demanded audit of the federation, appears to be at the heart of the dispute. Staff Writers, MBONGENI MGUNI and INNOCENT SELATLHWA report
“The reason we are saying BOFEPUSU should audit its books and stop making excuses is because we want to protect our men who are at the helm of the federation and who are coming from a clean culture at BTU. They cannot be in an environment where cleanliness is not the order of the day,” said Ibo Kenosi.
BTU secretary general, Kenosi was characteristically blunt yesterday as he told journalists that protecting the integrity of BTU leaders within BOFEPUSU’s highest structures was one of the reasons the teachers’ union was pushing for an audit.
BTU president, Johannes Tshukudu and treasurer, Moses Monnatsie are president and treasurer of BOFEPUSU respectively. The teachers’ union, with 18,400 members, is a major entity within BOFEPUSU, contributing P450,000 in subscriptions and more than a million to the federation’s projects, every year.
From events at the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) congress in Palapye last week, cracks between the BTU and the federation appear to be growing. At its congress, BOPEU officially announced its disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU, which did not send representatives to the event. The BTU, by comparison, was present and represented by Kenosi who sounded warnings about the federation’s failure to produce audited financial statements.
The apparent cosying up of the BTU and BOPEU has some analysts reading ominous signs for the teacher union’s future within BOFEPUSU, particularly as ordinary teachers keep grilling their union about leaders’ failure to press the federation for an audit.
“When we ask for the audit, this should not be seen as the BTU not being comradely,” Kenosi said.
“At each of the BTU’s congresses, one of the most talked about issues is the finance at BOFEPUSU. We have a challenge where an affiliate has disaffiliated citing audit issues.
“We are asking for the audit to protect the federation. In 2010, the BTU was investigated by auditors and even the Serious Crimes Squad and the reports are available. It’s not about comradeship.
“I am the conveyor belt between BTU and BOFEPUSU. I am the one who actually pays the affiliate fees and sees the transactions going on in the federation.”
Where BOPEU also voiced disgruntlement with BOFEPUSU’s naked support for the Umbrella for Democratic Change, the BTU has taken a softer stance. The teachers’ union believes the federation should simply encourage its members to participate in elections and not endorse a particular party.
And there are other signs the relationship between the teachers’ union and the federation is souring.
In Palapye, Kenosi openly spoke of BOFEPUSU’s “deliberate act” to snub the BOPEU congress, BOFEPUSU’s failure to stand up in solidarity with BOPEU during the BURS strike a few months ago, and how BOFEPUSU “colluded against BOPEU” in the elective congress early this year, to deny them the presidency of BOFEPUSU.
“I’m not aware of any day a BOFEPUSU meeting discussed finances; all I remember is discussing the increase in subscriptions,” Kenosi reportedly said in Palapye.
BTU deputy president, Kenathata Dipogiso was quick to dismiss suggestions that the teachers’ union is contemplating disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU, while also adding that such a decision could only be taken at a BTU congress.
“We are aware that divided workers will have an uphill battle in confronting the capitalist state and we believe in unity of workers. We affiliated bearing in mind that united we stand, divided we fall.
“It was a congress decision that we should be like that. Ever since we affiliated, we have never had fundamental differences with the federation. There are many issues that have been reported about BOFEPUSU, but this is the first time you have heard BTU being mentioned.
“Our message is to assure the nation and members of the union that we have not at any point contemplated moving from the federation,” Dipogiso said yesterday.
Analysts, however, are reading signs into the BTU’s decision to seek amalgamation or federalisation with the Botswana Secondary Teachers Union (BOSETU), which would build one of the country’s biggest and richest labour organisations.
The BTU has already written to BOSETU proposing a marriage that it says is in the interests of workers who belong to both organisations and are heavily indebted to the various credit schemes on offer.