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DETERMINED: Goretetse Kekgonegile

“We shall fight to the bitter end” says union Publicity secretary”

Like warriors prepared to fight till the bitter end, civil servants on strike have vowed that they will not surrender no matter how costly the war might be.

In an interview with the  publicity secretary of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions last Friday, soft spoken Goretetse Kekgonegile expressed passion, bitterness and emotion about the biggest strike ever experienced in Botswana. The social worker did admit that initially they did not anticipate that the strike would drag on for this long but if anything they get energized with each coming day as the quest to win becomes intense.

Q. The strike has entered its sixth week, when will it really end?
We are really concerned and worried that the strike is on-going and we want to end it immediately but the sad thing is that the other side, which is the Directorate of Public Service Management(DPSM) is not helping the situation. So it will end when we get what we want and that time is not far. We have put a lot of pressure on the government and they will soon be left with no choice but to bow down. We also have the support of members of parliament, BDP labour committee, opposition parties and members of the public and the pressure that they too will exert on the employer, which they have started to do will leave the government with no choice but to give in to our demands.

Q. When this industrial action started, did you think it would come this far?
We knew the type of government that we were dealing with, which is very stubborn so we anticipated some resistance but we didn’t think it would come this far.

Q. The government has maintained that it has no money and it does not look like its position would change.
There is no government in this world which has enough money to do what it wants, it’s just a question of priorities. Our government has and is getting its priorities wrong, it has no regard or respect for workers. Or to be precise President Khama is getting his priorities wrong, why has he prioritised petty programmes that cost a lot of money? Why give priority to the DIS and the BDF, we are not at war with anyone and there are no security threats so why spend millions of pulas on security. He must just suspend his little but expensive programmes like constituency leagues and Ipelegeng, stop channeling money to DIS and use that money to pay the workers.

Q. Talking of President Khama, there is a belief that unions have personal issues with him, what’s your take on that?
He is the one who decided to take it personal, when we went to court instead of Directorate of Public Prosecution or the Attorney Gneneral representing the government it was his personal lawyer who represented the employer, so to him it was a personal issue. And again as the president of this country, a man who is supposed to be the father of the nation he had and still has the power to end this impasse but instead he has decided to keep quiet, he does not want to dialogue with us but instead uses other forums to talk about the strike. We really feel insulted by his actions and I am sure so are many Batswana because everyone is affected by this strike which he has the power to stop.

Q. What would you want to tell him if he was to meet with  you and what do you expect him to say to you?
We simply want to present our case to him, to justify why we are demanding a salary increase and for him to convince us that there is no money that can go towards the salary increase because right now we are of the opinion that if he was to prioritize money would be there to pay workers.

Q. But why do you think he is avoiding dialogue with the unions?
He has a negative attitude towards unions. If he had his way he would have dismantled unions long back but unfortunately unions are here to stay.

Q. You were recently quoted saying that if the government does not yield to the union’s demands you will force President Khama to step down if not removing him by force, how do you intend to do that?
We will do that by mobilising the entire nation to support our cause, in fact we have started doing that and people from all walks of life are showing and giving us the necessary  support. If the nation calls on him to step down then that’s exactly what he should do. He does not have the interests of the nation at heart so why should he continue leading us. What we have also realized is that DPSM does not have a problem with us and so does parliament, the cabinet and BDP. The only problem is the President and as long as he does not have support he will go.

Q. President Khama is on record saying there is the hand of the opposition in this industrial action, your comment on this?
This is a desperate statement coming from a President who is clearly seeing that he is losing support.

Q. Workers seem to be so determined to carry on with the strike despite the financial consequences since the government has implemented the no work no pay policy, what do you think is driving them to go on?
The stronger the winds, the higher the kite goes. Put into context the more challenges we face, the more determined we will be. This is a war that we have started, this is a war that we will fight till the bitter end and this a war that we will win. The government might use intimidating tactics but we won’t give in, striking workers might not be paid and they might be fired and as unions we will stand by them through thick and thin.

Q. And how will you do that especially for those who will not be paid?
If it means going to court to fight for the re-instatement of the fired workers we will do that. It might be a big challenge to assist those who will not be paid but we will soon be opening a strikers account where well wishers can deposit the money to assist the affected workers. And by the way I am not only talking about local well wishers but beyond borders as well.

Q. Does this therefore mean that you will be paying all the affected workers and what system will you put in place to ensure transparency in this process?
We are not promising to pay all the affected workers, it will all depend on the availability of funds. We will first look at worst case scenarios and assist such cases accordingly, yes it would be a challenge but we will do our best.

Q. Schools were closed recently and now there is a campaign to close hospitals, what do you have to say about the affected students and lives that have been lost and likely to be lost by the closure of health institutions?
It is very sad that students have lost lessons and are likely to fail their exams, it is not something that we wanted. The only way to avoid further losses is for the government to end this impasse. Same goes for the situation in hospitals, it really touches our hearts. Everyday we pray for those people in intensive care, babies in incubators, pregnant women and all those who are in need of medical attention.

Q. Has the strike affected you personally?
I don’t think there is anyone who has not been affected by this strike, my child is at home instead of being at school. The fact that as leaders we also have to deal with problems of fellow comrades is traumatic and emotionally draining but we will soldier on.

Personal Profile
Full names:
Goretetse Kekgonegile
Date of birth:
April 14, 1971
Place of birth:
Maun
No. of children: two
Car driving
: Toyota Corolla
Mentor(s)
: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gomolemo Motswaledi and Robert Mugabe
Pass-time:
Reading, watching tv and spending time with friends
Book:
currently reading- A journey by Tony Blair
What makes him tick:
Contributing to positive change for the good of the people

6 COMMENTS

  1. So, union members, do you share values with Robert Mugabe? What do you think about following the instruction of people who look up to people like that? We know what Mugabe has done! What kind of a human being would regard such a sick dictator as his mentor? Does that explain the timing of the strike and the behaviour of the concerned people?

    I think our country can’t afford to dismiss these people as just insane. After all, Mugabe would use anyone who would be willing to destabilise or destroy our country to embarrass Khama. The talk about taking government by force and through the use of weapons, alleged cooperation of BMD with ZANU-PF and Guma Moyo’s presence in our politics may be the way for this country to be destroyed from abroad. Opposition are now cooperating on all things and they don’t condemn such talk of killing into office! Union leaders are now teaching people how to make and use petrol bombs. We know that BNF support Robert Mugabe like they do of Gaddafhi. The opposition hatred for the strengthening of our security may be explained by some of this. They surely can’t talk about regime change when they treat our security badly and can’t rely on them to help them to do that. Botswana needs to open her eyes, big time. Unions see police as their enemy, even beating them up saying they are spying on them, and now we know why. Cry the beloved country!

  2. @Chris M, good news is, it looks the strike will end soon. Seems gov & unions are reaching some sort of agreement, we need to get back to normal life. I will be travelling to Botswana next week and i am excited by this possibility. But Chris on Guma Moyo, you can just hate the man, maybe due to his Zimbabwean origins and the story about his travel with Kwelagobe to Zimbabwe which was linked to BMD fund raising (not coup d’etat). But the man is a cut above a lot of our politicians. If you carefully follow his utterances, he is more pragmatic than political, maybe this explains his success in business. Guma doesn’t follow the beaten path. I remember him dressing down the BMD for dwelling more into Khama bashing than real issues. He has come out opposing the civil servants strike and giving out his reasons for doing so and offering his alternative solutions. Even within the BMD, there is discomfort about most of his positions, some blame it on protecting his interests as a business man and his close association with some BDP politicians through business. He is quality, even in his constituency he is running it like a business, routing more for information dissemination and understanding of government programs. He is one of a few politicians who have committed more than 50% of his parliamentary salary as a donation to his constituency, he isn’t in it for money. Your wish might be granted, the man seems to be losing interest in politics, maybe due to silly noise made without much content, he could be out sooner than you think. He isn’t that patient, you remember when he resigned his MP seat after some revelations of his alleged corruption case which he blamed on inside betrayal (by his own BDP, exactly what the VP is saying now) & later rescinded after some convincing from a few people. I also understand he is one of the opposition MP who the pres still has a lot of respect for & the man doesn’t too hide his respect for the pres. Maybe you have realized, I think he is the only BMD MP who I haven’t heard spending more of his speech on Khama. In short Guma might not be what you think, why do you think the BMD are sad that he didn’t stand for treasure position?, he is smart & sees beyond his feet.

  3. @Ty_M. Guma Moyo is the only respectable and smart politician in opposition. I agree entirely with what you have said there. I just wonder why he joined a crowd of wayward, immature people at BMD! Associating with that lot raises eyebrows, and I have always felt he is with the wrong crowd. His Zim origin is not an issue for me on its own but the allegation of meeting an awful party like ZANU-PF honestly makes him look bad. Anyone with good principles and values wouldn’t do that. Yes, i certainly think he is, with the right company, a valuable leader. I read his interview recently and i was impressed. It’s not often you get that from our opposition politicians. He is different! Maybe he knows that we can’t do what he saw in Zim. Our opposition take a lot for granted because they haven’t experienced suffering and tragedy. They would do well to listen and learn from him but not with ZANU-PF!

  4. I don’t think right now we qualify to compare our leadership with any other countries, let us forget about them and concentrate on resolving our own problems.

    Our leadership at this particular moment in time have lost any credibility to compare themselves with anybody.

    Mugabe problems were unique to his country he failed, ours are unique to our country at the moment the leadership is failing to resolve them. I mean people are dying in hospitals, schools are shut if that’s not a crisis I don’t know what is. So a re lebaganeng le a rona mathata re name re lebetse ka bo Syria le bo Zimbabwe.

  5. Why do we keep referring to opposition as wayward, immature, ignorant when we are probably the only country in this day and age let by a failed Form 5 who is afraid to go and integrate with other leaders.

    The lack of ability to resolve this crisis could have something to do with his academic backgrounds so maybe he is the one who is wayward, immature and ignorant.

    P/S – No offence to any hardworking Form 5’s out there I am sure you are much better than HIM!!!