FROM BMC TECHNICAL OFFICER TO CHIEF STRIKE MARSHAL
Chief Strike Marshall talks of his hopes and fears as strike enters fourth week
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and if you can tell what a man is made of when there is a crisis, then strike marshal Time Moupi can rightly be called a man of the moment.
To those that support the strike he is a man of strength and courage, to his detractors he is a little more than a trouble maker and a rabble rouser. Either way, he is appropriately named, for as the strike continues beyond its original ten day mandate, he is the first to admit that the country is sitting on a time bomb that could explode at any moment.
In a conversation with The Voice for this week’s Big Interview, the Chief Strike Marshall for the Francistown region talks of his hopes and fears as the industrial action continues.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you?
I am Time Moupi, 47–years-old, a child of the sixties, born and breed in Bobonong. I work as a Technical Officer at the Botswana Meat Commission in Francistown, under the department of Veterinary services in the Ministry of Agriculture.
Q. And now you have reinvented yourself as a trades union leader. How did that happen?
In 1993 while working in Kgalagadi, I joined the public servants association when it was a mere association as a way of keeping myself busy. Then I moved to Mochudi, where I learnt more about the association and the proper procedures of airing out grievances. I used to write letters even to the Minister when my supervisor’s did not take action over my complaints.
In 1997 I was born again! I attended my first Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA) conference in Ghanzi. Thereafter I never missed anything to do with BCSA. Three years later I was actively involved in the executive running of BCSA branches in Mochudi. I was branch treasurer from 2000-2 and chairperson the following year. Towards the end of 2004 I was transferred here, and for the whole of 2005 I was an ordinary BCSA member. This was deliberate because I had just changed jobs and wanted to familiarize myself with it and the conditions of work. Furthermore this also gave me time to study and learn how branches were being operated.
Q. How did you get the gig as Chief Strike Marshal?
I was chosen as Chief Whip simply because I am the regional Chairperson for the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSO) in the Francistown region. A region which stretches from Tonota right down to the hither land in Kasane, with nine operating offices. My main task before the strike, when BOFEPUSO central Executive committee was negotiating with our employer for a salary increment, was to update all public sector employees this side of the country. It was also to get the mandate from the people on what the executive should do next. Even now I am in charge of communications between the national executive and our members and address gatherings of civil servants. From time to time together with my team we attend to queries and issues pertaining to the strike.
Q. What are your responsibilities?
Since switching hats four weeks ago, I was tasked with the responsibility of mobilizing and co -coordinating the mass of strikers in this region. This responsibility is a marathon task especially since it is the first time in the history of Botswana for all government employees to down their tools. To make this strike a reality, a lot of effort was required in assuring the masses that the strike was legal, that they would not be fired from their jobs because they participated in the industrial action. Literally my team and I had to educate members – about 88% of those on strike – and those who are not, that it was their right to participate in an action of this nature. People were afraid of the unknown!
Q. What setbacks have your experienced?
It was sad during the first few days to see fellow workmates initially participate, and then see them turn their backs on the strike due to intimidation and fear.
Most heartbreaking was when a lady came up to me in tears saying that her husband had forced her to go back to work, threatening action of his own if she didn’t. I know for a fact there are many such cases where the women are forced to go to work by their spouses.
Another scenario is where fellow workers are intimidated by their supervisors. Some are told that should they not join the strike, they will consider them for a promotional post. This is grossly unfair, if a person is worthy of promotion they should be considered regardless of whether they joined the strike or not.
Q. But it is a fact that the strike will divide both families and the country as a whole. Our own opinion poll shows that support for the strike amongst none civil servants has dwindled from 75% who initially supported it, to only around 30% who now support continued action. Does the loss of public support concern you?
They were supporting us before because they had not yet felt the heat. Now they have a change of heart because they are directly affected. They think we are out of order, but the public should redirect their pressure and anger towards the government. However some of them are ignorant of what is happening, and imagine we are enjoying and getting fat pay cheques in public service. This is not the case at all.
Q. Some of the songs the strikers are singing directly insult the President. Are you in danger of being hung for treason?
(Laughing) In Setswana culture it is permissible for one to express themselves freely in song and poetry. Yes some of these songs are controversial, but you need to understand the reasoning behind them. These people are grieved, hurting inside, and all they are doing is letting it out. Amidst the humour and anger, the songs are an expression of pain and sorrow. They expected a lot from their leader, and are disappointed. But I wouldn’t know if they would sing the same songs in the presence of the President (more laughter).
Q. Is the strike not putting a boot into government when it is still dealing with the recession and now the Foot and Mouth Disease?
We have not asked for an increment in the past three years being mindful of the economic crunch. Now we are saying government should re-priorities its projects, and while doing so should keep the employee high on its priority list.
Q. After twenty days now of industrial action, are civil servants putting the future of school children at stake?
It’s true their future is affected, including my own. However I must say if we do not do this for them now, conditions of service will not change anyhow! We are doing this for their future too -the teachers, nurses and doctors of tomorrow.
Q. Some might argue the strike is all to do with greed and not rights. What’s your comment?
Do you have an idea of how much the lowest government worker earns? An increase is a basic survival need – it has nothing to do with greed. We are simply asking for something to cushion us against inflation. Our purchasing power has been eroded. If you are talking about greed think about this, each time a new minister or assistant minister is appointed they are issued a cheque for P300 000 to buy furniture of their choice. Then they turn round to us and say there is no money!
Q. Imagine you have a bag containing a million pula, and all that is required for you to take the money is to accept that in doing so Chinese guy will fall of his bike and die. Do you take it?
Ha ha I know where you are going with this question. I would try other options, but if there is no way out, I would take it, and invest the cash in the trade unions.
Q. But is the strike worth the loss of a single life?
It’s a pity if any lives are lost, but in any struggle there are casualties. When we went on strike we knew that there would be some undesirable consequences, but we came out psychologically prepared. Anyone of us here at the grounds could fall sick at any minute, and when taken to the hospital find no help! We are all in the same boat.
Q. Do you foresee the country experiencing a national strike anytime soon?
I would say that the country was still far from experiencing a national strike. This can only happen when all trade unions from all sectors come together and form a confederation.
Q. How do you get away from the stress?
I go to my farm, commune with nature, and tend to my animals.
Name : Time Moupi
Date of birth: 04 May 1963
Marital status: Married
No. of children: Five
Car driving: Madza drifter (old but it gets me there!)
Favourite food: Pap, Mabele, and lots of meat beef /goat
Drink: Coke, occasionally Ciders
Pass Time: Farming