When Chief Justice Julian Nganunu deliveried his judgement in favour of President Ian Khama in 2009 against Gomolemo Motswaledi, the judgement marked a new beginning which changed the course of Botswana’s politics forever. For the past two years, BMD has been thrown in disarray, with the emergence of two factions threatening not only the existence of BMD as viable political party but also the prospects of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) attaining power in two years time, writes ALFRED MASOKOLA.
The formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) will remain a centre of debate for many years to come. The political movement was conceived in the wake of the suspension of Gomolemo Motswaledi from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The rising political star had been recently elected secretary general when he collided with party president Lt Gen Ian Khama. In the build-up to the 2009 Kanye Congress, at which Motswaledi was elected the party secretary general, tensions were brewing within the party.
Factions had returned-the Barataphathi, which Motswaledi was a member of had wanted the party to hold central committee elections, meanwhile, Khama’s A-Team preferred a compromise arrangement in which women would be allowed to assume the position unchallenged.
Daniel Kwelagobe, who had retired his secretary general position from the previous congress after serving 27 years, had returned to the fold this time around to contest the party chairmanship. DK became the subject of humiliation from the A- Team faction because he reneged from his earlier promise that he had retired. However, the real battle was between Khama and Motswaledi, the Barataphathi prince. Khama had been at cross roads ever since the 2003 congress, in which against all the odds, Motswaledi, then a Youth Wing chairman, joined a small group of those who stood with Ponatshego Kedikilwe against Vice President Ian Khama for the party chairmanship.
Five years later, when Motswaledi wanted to succeed Khama in the Serowe North West constituency, the former was made to back down. Instead it was Tshekedi Khama, the president’s brother who took over the throne. The 2009 Kanye Congress was a continuation of the Motswaledi/Khama battle, but its aftermath left a ruin in the BDP and set in motion a chain of events which led to the formation of the BMD.
After the victory of the Barataphathi at Kanye, a series of events hastened the hostility in the party. Khama was in control of government, while Barataphathi were in control of the party. The ultimate point came when Motswaledi, two months into his position was slapped with a suspension letter supposedly for defying president Khama’s authority. Motswaledi was suspended for 60 days from the party and re-called as party parliamentary candidate for Gaborone Central. The suspension came after Motswaledi had written to two law firms seeking clarification on whether the party president had powers to make unilateral appointment of sub-committee members without consulting the central committee.
Collins and Newman Law firm responded through newspapers, stating that Khama indeed had powers to do so. Motswaledi wrote back, rebuking Collins and Newman’s Parks Tafa for running the opinion in the newspapers. This ended Motswaledi’s political career at BDP. A few months later, crowds of well wishers left the Court of Appeal with one resolution: to stand by Motswaledi through and through. Immediately after the judgement, Botsalo Ntuane, then Motswaledi’s sympathiser-in-chief had convinced Motswaledi to form a political party. It was a decision taken in the benches of the court.
After a few months later, BMD was born; it was the new kid in the block and immediately assumed the position of main opposition in parliament. Many theories have been said about the party but, its break through transformed the politics of Botswana, either for better or for worse. Many have said the party would not survive the politics of opposition, but the party has stayed to live, for seven years now. Part of the BMD legacy, which will stay forever is that for the first time in the history of Botswana, BDP experienced a split which weakened the party. BDP had been for years a major beneficiary of fragmented opposition parties.
EMERGENCE OF FACTIONS IN BMD
BMD is party which is a product of BDP factionalism. The suspension of Motswaledi from the party and barring him from contesting for parliamentary constituency was the turning point. Motswaledi’s court loss was met with a new five year suspension from the party. When announcing his resignation from the party in 2010, Motswaledi said he had to fight “what looked like a five-year sentence, while in fact was a 10 year sentence.” The five years suspension meant that Motswaledi would have not been eligible to participate in the 2013 party primary elections, ruling him out of the possibility of running for a parliament seat until 2019.
Ndaba Gaolathe, then Motswaledi’s campaign manager published an article in newspapers in which he condemned the party’s decision to suspend Motswaledi. Gaolathe said the decision was not in line with what the party stood for and that the decision was taken in bad faith. Meanwhile Botsalo Ntuane who chaired the committee which oversaw the formation of BMD, and later became its Vice President was of the view that after the 2009 Kanye Congress, the victory of democrats was sabotaged and undermined at every turn. He contended that the BDP had abandoned faith in democracy.
In the formative stages of BMD Ntuane never stopped insisting how BMD was important to the future politics of Botswana, and that if there was ever to be any change of government, BMD would be central to all the events. The former Gaborone South West legislator was then the leader of opposition. Ntuane has since returned to BDP and is not part of the boiling pot currently brewing at the party.
At the centre of the controversy lies party chairman Nehemiah Modubule and secretary general Gilbert Mangole while the other side of the divide is party president Ndaba Gaolathe and his deputy Wynter Mmolotsi. The two factions have failed to reconcile. The fire was stoked by the presence of former party spokesperson; Sidney Pilane who has since self declared his return to the party, defying an earlier resolution by party president, Gaolathe that his membership will only be dealt with at next year’s party congress. A liberal BMD constitution, which vests more powers on the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), has made it difficult for the party to resolve the impasse as NEC members remain divided.
The adoption of a liberal constitution by BMD at the 2011 Inaugural Congress was motivated by the manner in which the late party leader, Motswaledi was suspended by President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama Seretse Khama from his position as BDP Secretary General in 2009, a few weeks after being elected into the position at the party congress. Pilane is the chief architect of BMD’s constitution. Gaolathe, who formed part of the inaugural NEC as National Policy Director became party president following the untimely death of Motswaledi in July 2014. Prior to assuming the presidency, Gaolathe had served as Motswaledi’s deputy. Pilane quit the party in 2012, a year after being defeated by Motswaledi for the party leadership at the party’s inaugural congress.
BMD president, Gaolathe had insisted previously that the process which was adopted to grant Pilane membership was unconstitutional since his earlier application at Gaborone North was rejected. Pilane would later be granted membership at Mochudi West branch after being abetted by party secretary general, Gilbert Mangole to do so. Pilane’s BMD return talks started making rounds in 2015 ahead of the BMD Youth League congress held in Mochudi where it was reported that he had funded the team which emerged victorious.
It was also reported that the BMD founding member was on the verge of return to the party and also eyeing the party presidency. Pilane however ruled out the possibilities of him returning to politics, only to announce his arrival later. Pilane was later listed as one of the negotiators representing BMD at the cooperation talks, something which Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction opposed. The Gaolathe faction pushed for a special congress last year, despite winning support in 29 branches, the Modubule/Mangole faction controlled NEC rejected special congress on the basis that due process was not properly done. The Gaolathe faction is of the view that the Modubule/Mangole faction feared facing the wrath of party members are playing delaying tactics.
Last week, at the eleventh hour, the part NEC took a decision to postpone the Youth League elections billed for that weekend in Ramotswa. In another factional bout, the Mangole/Modubule faction diverted another contest but reasoned that the decision was taken after fears that the youth league would not have enough delegates to form a quorum. The Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction did not buy that reason and insisted that, again it was another ploy to avoid defeat by the team. The Gaolathe/Mmolotsi team went ahead and held the congress where the new youth league was elected. However, the Modubule/ Mangole faction had insisted the congress was unconstitutional, referring to it “a wasteful gathering of friends.” Modubule has threatened to suspend those who attended the congress for bringing the party into disrepute.
IMPLICATIONS ON OPPOSITION COOPERATION
BMD forms a vital cog in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). After the 2014 general elections, of the 17 elected UDC MPs, nine of them belonged to BMD (that was before Kgosi Tawana Moremi tendered his resignation). The UDC project is mainly attributed to hard work of Duma Boko, the Botswana National Front (BNF) President and Motswaledi who passed away a few months ahead of the 2014 general elections. In the run up to those elections, Gaolathe was Boko’s vice presidential candidate and also party secretary general.
One school of thought opines that the Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction is also not happy with the gains of the BMD in the new UDC set-up following the arrival of Botswana Congress Party (BCP). They have since rubbished those claims. Meanwhile on the side of factional divide, Pilane and co are content with the gains of the BMD. A new deal insists that the position held at UDC was given to parties not individuals, which means, Gaolathe’s vice presidency is subject to him retaining the BMD presidency in July. Mangole and Modubule have announced at a press briefing earlier this week that they have lost confidence in Gaolathe.
Earlier last year, BNF senior figure and legislator for Molepolole North, Mohammed Khan warned UDC that BDP is alive to the fact that opposition parties are in pole position to take over power in the next general elections, and therefore will do everything to frustrate them. Khan was vying for the party vice presidency when he told this publication last year that already there were efforts made to infiltrate opposition parties and cause some sort of instability including by luring members with attractive packages to have them dump their parties. The Molepolole North legislator expressed that the UDC leadership should intervene in the ongoing BMD internal wars for the sake of protecting the mother party.
“At leadership level UDC should intervene with the bigger picture in mind. We are all UDC, people don’t care about BNF, BMD, BPP (Botswana Peoples Party) or BCP (Botswana Congress Party) because they will be voting UDC,” he said. “If the leadership does not intervene, the matter might get out of control and as a result hurting the UDC electoral success in 2019. I have experienced this situation before and I will be able to help.” However Boko has chosen not to intervene in the matter preferring to allow the party to sort itself out. Boko has said BMD is going through a normal process like any party and will pass through that phase.
On the other side, BOFEPUSU have been on the receiving end of the Modubule/Mangole faction, who said their appearance at BMD YL congress in Ramotswa over the weekend was interference in the internal affairs of the BMD. BOFEPUSU Secretary for Labour, Johnson Motshwarakgole and Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa were present at the congress. It is reported that BOFEPUSU has pledged to support Gaolathe and his team.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.