Woman of courage
Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) President Masego Mogwera is excited and rearing to go after a two years suspension.
The 54- year -old unstoppable leader made headlines from the many court appearances she made while battling to clear her name from accusations of corruption leveled against her by her colleagues.
The High Court recently ruled that her suspension, together with that of BOPEU Secretary-General, Topias Marenga be lifted because they were unlawful.
Exuding positive energy and confidence, President Mogwera sat down for a chat with our Reporter Portia Mlilo over the weekend and talked candidly about her journey in leadership, the seemingly insurmountable challenges she faced, and how she overcame them as well as the future of the Union.
Q. What inspired you to join workers union leadership?
A. I am a unionist and an activist who wants to fight for the rights of workers.
It just happens that members see through your achievements, commitment, and passion and decide that you are the right person to lead them.
I didn’t see it coming but I just found myself in that assignment.
Q. What does your role entail as the president of BOPEU?
A. I am the chief spokesperson of the organization.
I advocate, guide, and negotiate with the government and other stakeholders on behalf of members.
I also ensure that there is peace and stability within the organisation and compliance with provisions of the constitution to uphold our integrity.
Q.How difficult is it to be a leader in a male-dominated committee?
A. It all depends on an individual.
If you can tell yourself that you are human before being a woman then you will make it.
We are equally capable and yes women are great leaders.
I have been a president at BOFEPUSU for two terms and I won elections against men.
Women must never underestimate their capabilities.
I work as an Animal Production officer for Kweneng Sub District under the Ministry of Agriculture and it is a male-dominated field.
I was born in a family of two women and two men.
Hahaha! (She laughs). I am never intimidated by men.
Q. Earlier on you talked about maintaining peace and stability within the organization, how did you end up in court fighting for your seat?
A. If you can go through court papers and judgments, you will see that there was no case.
We had about ten cases in court and they lost all of them.
I just feel they do not want to be led by a woman.
They accused me of stealing the union money and I stepped down to allow the investigations to complete for two years.
No evidence linked me to that.
When we did a forensic audit they realised their friends were implicated.
All the allegations were false and the court cleared me and I went back to the office.
They appealed and lost again.
The fight started in 2018 before our 2019 elections and the legal costs are more than P2 million paid by the organisation.
Q. One would ask why you did not give up on the case.
A. A lot of people advised me to do that and I refused.
Not when I see that my rights are trampled on.
I did not want to set a precedence that when one is under pressure or is wrongfully accused then one quits.
BOPEU members voted and entrusted me with their organisation.
I didn’t want history to judge me badly, I had to clear my name.
Q. You are now back in the office and the people who were fighting you are still part of the executive committee, how is your working relationship with them?
A. The ring leader is my 1st Vice President and he was leading all these cases and others against me.
I believe we should sort out our differences and focus on delivering the mandate of the organisation.
Let’s do what we came into the office for.
The Congress is in December and there is a lot that has not been done so we should not waste any time.
Since the outbreak of Covid, you never hear the voice of BOPEU advocating for safety and good working conditions for their members.
Those who were in office were busy with court cases neglecting their responsibilities.
Q. What can you say are some of your greatest achievements ever since you became the president at BOPEU?
A. We have attained a lot.
When I became the president, there was a misappropriation of funds at our union investment wing.
The forensic report revealed that there were P62 million debts.
I negotiated a payment plan.
It was very tough, even the employees were afraid we might retrench.
After two years we managed to make a profit of P2 million, the following year P6.2 P6.7 million and last financial year P14.7 million.
As for now, I must say we are stabilizing and managed to maintain the integrity and reputation of the organisation.
Q. At some point, you were the Vice President of BOPEU, how did you end up being the president of BOFEPUSU?
A. That was in 2010 and BOFEPUSU then had two affiliates, being BOPEU and manual workers.
We had wanted other public sector trade unions being BLLAHWU, BOSETU, and BTU to join BOFEPUSU so that we have one voice under one federation.
We were in the process of establishing the Public Service Bargaining Council.
The public service act had long been signed but not implemented so we were of the view that if we work together it would be put to use.
The meeting was held at Thaba Thula Game Lodge and the leadership of the five trade unions appointed me as their president in my absence.
Q. There seems to be infighting of leaders in different unions, some cases ending up in courts, what could be the cause of this chaos?
A. Mostly the fights are financially related.
Unions are big organizations with many members and we do a lot of investments for the betterment of our members.
Some people are greedy and end up misusing funds.
Sometimes is just a clash of egos.
Some go into leadership positions to serve their personal interests and forget their duties.
Q. What is your take on union leadership that is aligned to certain political parties?
A. We come from different backgrounds in politics, religion, and others.
It is wrong to be politically aligned because it is supposed to be individual choices.
It can divide the organisation.
Let’s concentrate on what we are voted for.
As public servants, we implement policies of the government of the day.
Q. What does it take to be a great leader?
A. You need to be trustworthy, be accountable, tolerant, and patient.
Accept criticism because it is the feedback that can build you.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. Nelson Madela is my inspiration.
Imagine how he had suffered for the freedom of his country, serving 27 years imprisonment.
That’s what made me not give up though I did not anticipate that the case will take two years.
The other person who inspires me is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Liberian politician who served as the President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018.
She was the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Q. After what you have been through, do you still want to stand for the elections to serve another term?
A. I will see.
If it wasn’t for the hiccups I had, initially I wanted to serve one term and hand over at the Congress.
I did not deliver what I had promised members so I will hear what they say between now and December.
For now, I haven’t made up my mind.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. I am going to the farm to vaccinate goats.
On weekends, when I do not have meetings I spend my time with my grandchildren Leruo, Phenyo, and Sharma and Shalom (twins) so I will be with them.