The soft spoken Ketlhalefile Motshegwa is a down to earth youth who takes life seriously. In an interview with MMIKA SOLOMON he talks about his activism in unionism.
Q. What do you do for a living?
I’m freedom fighter. I work for the government of Botswana.
I am seconded at Botswana Land Boards Local Authorities Workers Union (BLLAWU) as the Secretary General.
I’m also the Deputy Secretary General of Botswana Federation Sector Public Union (BOFEPUSO).
Q. So these two trade unions pay your wage bill?
I am just offering my services to the labour unions. I am actually employed at the Francistown City Council as a council clerk. That is where I get my salary.
Q. When did you join these labour movements?
I joined them in 2010. This year I will be going for re-election as Secretary of BLLAWU.
Q. When did you get employed at the Francistown City?
I got employed in 2008 as the FCC Council clerk. I immediately joined BLLAWU as a shop steward, as secretary at the Francistown branch.
Six months later I became the Chairperson of the branch whilst still on probation. I was elected Secretary General of BLLAWU in 2010.
Q. What exactly do you do at BLLAWU?
I am like the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in terms of union management structures.
Q. What do Unions believe in?
As the union we believe in the working class agenda. Part of it is to give ideological directions.
That is to say we advocate for the rights of the workers and defend them. My role is to run the administration of the Unions.
Q. There must be challenges that you encounter in your quest to fight for the workers’ rights.
Definitely, in the fight for freedom there must be challenges. In 2010 the workers decided to go on an industrial strike.
It was the biggest of its kind since Botswana gained independence.
Q. What was your role in that industrial strike?
My role was to manage the Union and inspire the workers towards what they believed in so that there is a resilient and vibrant strike.
Q. In your opinion was the strike a success?
Indeed, it was successful. However, there were a few hiccups here and there.
There was a warrant of arrest issued against me and some leaders of the Union on allegations of inciting violence, something that I believe was just cooked to derail the struggle.
Q. Did the fight for workers’ rights affect you personally?
The aftermath of the strike affected me a great deal. I have never been promoted since I was employed in 2008.
I have never been sent to training.
I lost valuable time that I could have spent with my family.
I am always in and out of my house doing union work. I am being vilified by the government and being the enemy of the state.
Q. Any regrets?
I am not regretting anything that I have done for the Unions. I take that the sacrifice is for the common good.
I have no doubt in my mind that the strike has changed the political landscape of this country.
The working class agenda, conditions of service and welfare of the workforce must be a priority to each politician.
If you are into politics and you want workers to vote for you then your agenda should be clear, that you will represent our interest.
Q. Are Unions going to be affiliated to certain political parties or individuals?
We shall inspect all political party manifestos. If they have workers’ rights in them we shall be with them.
However, our alliance with political parties will be temporary.
Q. Among the parties that exist in Botswana which ones speak your language?
We believe in a united opposition.
The entire civil society was not involved in negotiating for a united opposition.
It is safe to say we are waiting for them to brief us on what they have achieved.
Hence, our stance shall remain unknown for now.
Q. Earlier on you said Police arrested you. What happened after?
My case was withdrawn with no case to answer.
When a freedom fighter loses his/her freedom others are always available to carry on the fight.
Workers will never be defeated. If you attack a union, you make them stronger. We believe we should push until victory is realised.
Q. As the Union leader you are always fighting government is that what you do all the time?
I spend 85% of my time addressing meetings of the struggle.
I also sit in the bargaining council as Deputy Chief negotiator and sit as a trustee at Pensions Fund.
Q. Does this bargaining council still exist?
It nearly collapsed because the government thought we were talking political language.
But the negotiations resumed this Tuesday (December 10).
Q. The government says there is no money to increase your salaries and you insist there is money. Why?
Botswana government has plenty of money in her coffers. There is enough money to increase our salaries.
Look at the beef and diamond sector. A lot of money accrued there is misused.
There is rampant corruption. The money is being channeled to DIS.
The purchasing power of the workers has gone down.
Q. What should be done?
We believe that there should be a living wage. A worker should be able to pay rent, buy food.
The President of Botswana undermines the union, he says he is always busy. But we always see him riding bikes.
Q. In short you guys want another salary increase?
We expect a salary adjustment that can address our sizeable demands, we demand a sizeable increment.
The government must seriously address the issues of salaries now.
We don’t believe the nation can be in a recession forever.
Come to think of it, government employees are the happiest lot in the employment sector.
Just imagine some of you guys have free accommodation. Whats wrong with you guys?
We are not happy at all. The workforce is not happy at the way government is treating us.
Our conditions of service are not inspiring. They way government draws her policies leaves a lot to be desired.
The government must have time to listen to us. We should often have a social dialogue from time to time.
Q. Does government intimidate you in any way?
Yes. The Director of DPSM has threatened to expel me and my comrade Tabokani Rari from the civil service.
Q. Unions by their nature have plenty of money. Why not utilise that money for your own good?
Unions have invested in some sectors. We need capital to face capitalism.
We need money to mobilize and educate our members, and to empower our leaders.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are you doing this weekend?
I will be visiting the cattle posts and spending quality time with my family.