The demise of Comrade Elias Bose Mbonini is not only a loss to his family but a multiple blow to the movement of change and to the cause of the working people in particular.
To be precise he was in many respects the heartbeat of the labour movement in Botswana and the region in terms of its history. His contribution through Botswana Federation of Trade Unions(BFTU) and direct involvement in the founding of the Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council(SATUCC) has been incredibly immeasurable at its inception in the eighties.
It is worth mentioning that Mbonini was part of the few remaining crop who were products of the national trade union education centre who inspired commitment and informed drive for the betterment of life in the workplace and the wider political liberation movement in what was to be known as the Frontline States otherwise now the SADC region.
Comrade Mbonini joined the Trade Union movement in the mid-1970s when he became a member of the Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU). In 1978 he was elected Vice Branch Secretary of the Selibe -Phikwe branch & became the Branch Secretary in 1983.
As part of the Branch Executive he was very active in the promotion & protection of Workers’ rights, organizing, handling cases & disputes as well as collective bargaining. It must be remembered that these were times when employers were mostly white South Africans who had no respect for labour laws & rode roughshod over workers’ rights. Government was also very lax in calling them to order & sometimes actively supported them.
Union activism at the time resulted in possible loss of advancement at work due to misconceptions that one was anti-establishment. It therefore took brave men & women to lead Trade Unions. Comrade Mbonini was one such man.
In 1985 he was elected President of the Union as well as the President of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU)
Comrade Mbonini served as President of the BFTU from 1985 until 2000.
He and his colleagues fought very hard for the promotion & protection of Workers’ rights.
Some of the achievements under his leadership were:
• the ratification of ILO conventions no 87 & 98 among others.
• the declaration of Labour Day as a public holiday
• establishment of the Industrial Court
• review of labour laws like employment act & trade disputes act
Comrade Mbonini represented the BFTU in many fora like the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity & Smart Partnership.
He was a selfless & dedicated leader of the Trade Union movement, and the best that the nation especially the labour movement can do is to uphold his legacy of demanding social justice and decent work for all.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Thusang Butale (Mr)