Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

30 October 2008

Botswana: BMWU Denies 'Birds of a Feather' to Nestle

Francistown — The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) weekend council meeting in Palapye has rejected a proposal to lift former union treasurer, Lentsifetse Masilo, to the position of chairman.

At an 'emotionally charged' meeting, the majority of the branches rejected Masilo, whom they described as general secretary Jack Tlhagale's 'stooge'. The Jwaneng branch, supported by the Morupule branch, endorsed the National Executive Committee's (NEC) proposal to rope in Masilo as the man to replace the late Golekanye Mogende.

Early this year, during a triennial congress where elections were held in Francistown, Masilo came second in the race for the chairmanship whilst Chimbidzani Chimidza came third. The late Mogende won.

The branches that did not agree with the NEC including BCL, Letlhakane, Mupane, Orapa, Tati Nickel, Quarries of Botswana, Lobatse Clay Works, Botash and De Beers Prospecting.

Basically, branches doubted the leadership could be held accountable when their friends continue to be roped into the union leadership.

The main concern was finances. That sparked heated debate as some councillors were not satisfied with rising spending.

"Masilo was rejected based on the fact that during his tenure as the BMWU treasurer, the BMWU NEC could not account for some financial processes. We cannot bring together Tlhagale and some of his old friends," an inside source who attended the congress reported.

A document chronicling some audit queries dating as far back as 2007 has been leaked to this publication, which seems to give some credence to the story peddled by the anti-Masilo faction. The problems raised by the auditors are blamed squarely on the current leadership and previous ones.

The 'anti-Masilo' branches had suggested that instead, the council should elevate deputy chairman, Rex Tambula to become the next union top man. They did not agree to be guided by the union constitution which suggests that in the event of a vacancy, the candidate who received the next highest votes at the time of election shall be invited to fill the post.

In fact, at some stage last Saturday, it is reported that Tambula was recommended for automatic promotion by some branches before the Jwaneng councillors, supported by Morupule, Kgale and Fourie branches, moved another motion aimed at blocking the automatic promotion of Tambula and thereby forcing a vote, which resulted in the anti-Masilo faction winning.

This reportedly followed another round of behind-the-scenes intensive lobbying that exposed huge cracks in one of the country's largest unions. So, Tambula is the new BMWU chairman.

Another acrimonious meeting is expected in three weeks when the council continues where it had left business, as it could not exhaust the agenda items at its last weekend meeting.

The branches are expected to slug it out again in another 'tug-of-war' meeting to elect the deputy chairman.

Already, Jwaneng, Morupule, Kgale and Fourie branches are reportedly lobbying for Masilo, whilst on the other side BCL, Letlhakane, Mupane, Tati Nickel, Quarries of Botswana, Lobatse Clayworks, Botash and De Beers Prospecting are reportedly lobbying for their losing man, Chimidza and another unnamed person.

Chimidza is viewed as a moderate person, who listened to the general union membership and coordinated the branches very well.

"He is not a secretive character like some of us so he is likely to sail through if his name crops up," said a Chimidza fan from the Orapa branch, who pleaded not to be named.

Sources say the BMWU executive is trying to bring on board, through employment, one of its additional members, Happy Bashe, who was recently affected by privatisation and outsourcing at the Debswana Jwaneng mine. Equally, if Masilo is endorsed for the chairmanship, he would be put on the union payroll.

This is another source of acrimony and bitter rivalry among the BMWU branches with those who are opposed to the employment of office bearers raising a concern that the union coffers have of late been dwindling. They do not want more staff on the payroll.

It is further argued that Bashe in particular had always known that she would lose her job but she decided to run for the union position knowingly that she would be out of her job in a short time.

Although Tlhagale was cagey about the details relating to the council meeting, he confirmed that the Palapye council meeting elected the new chairman although he did not say who.

Mmegi can confirm that Tambula was elevated by majority of branches to be the next chairman.

"We were able to address some issues at the BCL branch and I regard this as one of the key achievements," said Tlhagale, speaking about discipline at the branch adding that the next phase of the meeting will be in the next three weeks.

Tlhagale has also disputed allegations that the NEC was not handling the union finances properly.

"There is no truth in such allegations. Look, the auditors have done their bit and as some people continued to create wrong impressions at the council meeting, we called the auditors to come and explain some disputed entries on the income and expenditure statements and it was then that the audited statements were adopted by the council," said Tlhagale.

He said the dispute arose as "some councillors felt that on the expenditure statement, there were some huge expenditures which they felt was not justified". In the end, it was agreed that there be itemisation of expenditure for easy comprehension of the councillors.

"It was finally agreed that councillors can easily access the union financial books for transparency as nothing stops them from doing that.

I find it premature for any councillor to claim embezzlement of funds as there is no evidence to suggest so. People should not blow the situation out of proportion," he appealed.

Tlhagale said that in the majority of cases, councillors decided to toe the line of dirty politicking, whilst lobbying for some people. "By suggesting that I favour some people like Masilo and Bashe, it is very wrong, to say the least," he concluded.

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