FRANCISTOWN: The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) has invited representatives of all major political parties in Botswana to its Labour Day (also known as May Day) festivities pencilled in for May 1, 2019 at the Old Francistown Stadium.
The BFTU would be launching its workers’ manifesto at the shindig, six months ahead of the general elections, which some predict would be the most competitive in the country’s history.
The gathering would be held under the theme, ‘Demand for a better Botswana’.
According to the secretary general of BFTU Thusang Butale, the manifesto contains pertinent issues that unions want the current government to urgently address.
BFTU, which has now mended relations with Botswana Federation of Public Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), wants government to urgently address their concerns for healthy industrial relations.
Since the general elections are just on the way, Butale added, if it happens that there would be regime change after the general elections, the same would be expected of the new ruling party.
The BFTU has extended invitations to the BDP, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Alliance for Progressives (AP).
Said Butale: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi has accepted to be our guest speaker at the event. We want him to speak on how government intends to solve grievances that are affecting workers. We have been exchanging notes with his office about various issues that we want him to talk about in his speech. We have also invited Tshenolo Mabeo to give closing remarks since workers fall under his ministry”.
In the same breath, Butale noted, the presidents of UDC and AP, Duma Boko and Ndaba Gaolathe respectively, have also been invited to give solidarity messages. At the time of going to press, Butale said, BFTU was still awaiting confirmation from the BDP about who will represent the party at the jamboree. He continued: “We have also invited our colleagues from BOFEPUSU. We had a meeting with them on Wednesday and we agreed to collaborate and work together to make the day a great success”.
Although the shindig would not be a townhall forum like in Western countries where politicians usually meet their constituents either to hear from them on topics of interest or discuss specific legislation, precedent has been set in the past whereby unionists and opposition activists used events like this to vent out their frustrations over the ruling party ‘mismanaging’ the country and ill-treating trade unions.
With government’s recent grounding of the UDC’s campaign jet and chopper at the Francistown International Airport, there is a groundswell of opinion that Boko may use the BFTU event to cast aspersions on Masisi’s leadership and democratic credentials.
Academics have also taken pot shots at Masisi, disparaging him of his relationship with unions.
According to a newspaper report, a University of Botswana (UB) academic has even raised doubts if Masisi would divert from his predecessor’s way of treating unions and chart his new path.
In an academic paper titled ‘The State of Industrial Relations in Botswana: Collective bargaining in turmoil and trade Union resistance’ released earlier this year by UB scholar, Professor Motsomi Marobela from the Department of Management, Marobela stated that Masisi might be a direct duplicate of former president Ian Khama in as far as purging trade unions is concerned.
He said that it is particularly so because Khama has over all these years been Masisi’s mentor, therefore has essentially made Masisi.
The paper explores the state of industrial relations in Botswana and specifically, it investigates collective bargaining as a structure of mediation.
However, this may not be the case because since he assumed the presidency, Masisi has opened his doors to trade unions and has promised to mend bridges that were destroyed by his predecessor.
Masisi even extended the olive branch to all trade unions in Botswana when he invited them to the BDP’s recent controversial congress that was held in Kang.
Of Boko and Gaolathe, most people regard the latter as a gentleman of politics who rarely attacks his opponents while the former is regarded as someone who almost uses any forum to fire salvoes at the ruling party. Gaolathe is an issue-based politician. He currently reiterated that position during the launch of the AP manifesto in Gaborone telling his party’s cadres to focus on explaining the AP’s manifesto to the masses rather than wasting time on peripheral issues of attacking their nemeses.
The question on the mouths of the people privy to government-union relations in Botswana is ‘Will Boko draw a veil over his recent problems with the government or will he turn the BFTU event into a forum for contestation of sound political ideals’?