FRANCISTOWN: The power and unity of public servants under the Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) will be tested tomorrow in the Goodhope-Mabule by-election.
More than 2, 600 civil servants are expected to partake in tomorrow’s by-election as BOFEPUSU tries to deny the ruling party a chance to win the constituency, which fell vacant after the former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) legislator James Mathokgwane resigned in May to join SPEDU.
Until the 2014 elections, the Goodhope-Mabule constituency had been pro-Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The fact that the BDP won 11 of the 12 wards shows that it remains a factor and may recapture the constituency.
Comfort Maruping represents the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Eric Molale represents BDP and Kgosi Lotlamoreng II represents the UDC.
BOFEPUSU said this week that it values its vote for the weekend polls because members are ready to vote for the UDC.
Is BOFEPUSU a factor in Goodhope-Mabule by-election to send chills down the spines of its opponents?
In the 2014 elections, UDC garnered 6, 712 votes followed by BDP with 6, 101 votes and the BCP with 717 votes. Some 15, 874 people had registered to vote but 13, 530 voted. It is not clear if all the 2, 600 civil servants registered to vote in 2014 general elections.
Only people who registered to vote in a preceding general election can vote in a by-election. Usually, a smaller number of voters turn up for a by-election.
All the parties contesting the by-election are adamant that they all have a fair share of support from public servants.
If that is the case, BOFEPUSU influence in support of the UDC could be reduced from its purported 16.38 percent. Because of the secret ballot however, it is not easy to determine which political party the civil servants boosted.
Apart from the BOFEPUSU factor, other influential factors are the work rate of the parties and the issues at stake in the constituency.
Condition of service render public servants apolitical but BOFEPUSU leadership made a deliberate decision to throw their weight behind the UDC to encourage opposition unity.
The federation has made it clear that it will not support the BDP candidate because of stand-offs with its candidate during his times as permanent secretary to the president and later minister for presidential affairs and public administration.
Molale, who carries hope for the BDP in Goodhope-Mabule, is considered public servants enemy number one given his hard stance on public servants since the 2011 public servants strike.
He has unfinished business with public servants and the by-election offers them an opportunity to flex their political muscle against him.
If BOFEPUSU will prevail, the BCP will be punished for its refusal to join other opposition parties under the UDC.
Although BOFEPUSU members align themselves with different political parties, the federation insists that they will all vote for the UDC on Saturday.
“If there are government ministers campaigning in the area then we have a moral obligation of protecting the workers through voting the united opposition of UDC,” said Motshegwa.
BOFEPUSU, which has had skirmishes with Molale, feels strongly that Molale “has failed to deliver as a top civil servant.”
Motshegwa stated that Kgosi Lotlamoreng II is a friend of the workers because during the public servants strike of 2011, he offered his kgotla to the union leadership to address a meeting despite that the government had issued an instruction preventing trade unionist from using the kgotla.
“He (Kgosi Lotlamoreng II) is a friend of labour whilst Molale is a monumental enemy of the trade unions. Since his days as PSP and since he was appointed Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, he has never had a single meeting with workers despite their requests,” stated Motshegwa justifying the reasons for punishing Molale.
Recently, Molale and PSP Carter Morupisi addressed teachers at Goodhope Senior Secondary School accusing them of poor delivery something that has left tongues wagging at the school.
Challenges such as acute water shortage in Goodhope-Mabule have apparently hardened feelings of the workers as they feel strongly that they are being neglected.
Dismissing BOFEPUSU threat to punish the BDP and its candidate Molale, BDP secretary general, Botsalo Ntuane said yesterday that BOFEPUSU is not homogenous, “and therefore, the threat to punish us is unfounded and without substance as we also have members within the federation.”
He further dismissed the BOFEPUSU threats simply as sentiments by some in the leadership of the federation.
“In BOFEPUSU, those people differ and the BDP has members and those loyal to us will vote in our favour just like in previous polls,” he said.
Quizzed about the BOFEPUSU threat, BCP’s publicity secretary, Dithapelo Keorapetse said: “ Well, we should understand that BOFEPUSU is a federation of five trade unions. The way the decision to support UDC as opposed to other political parties was arrived at was not done democratically as it does not reflect a collective decision,” said Keorapetse.
He said as the BCP they would be extremely worried if the decision to punish the BCP was made by the majority of BOFEPUSU members.
“So, on the basis of who took the decision of BOFEPUSU not to vote for us, the decision is not a factor in our campaigns at all,” concluded Keorapetse.
Meanwhile, UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa said yesterday that when the opposition party unity talks started, they had an opportunity to meet with BOFEPUSU delegation that encouraged the opposition bloc to unite.
“That formed the basis of working together in the umbrella project and we are where we are amongst other players because of the contribution of BOFEPUSU,” said Mohwasa.