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Why he differed with Masire on BDP factions

IN ATTENDANCE: President Lt Gen Ian Khama and Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi attended Merafhe’s book launch

The late former Vice President Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe has explained in his recently released memoir that factions at the BDP started at the time of Seretse Khama.


In his book entitled “The General: In the service of my country”, Merafhe denied responsibility for the formation of factions within the Botswana Democratic Party. He wrote that although former President Sir Ketumile Masire revealed that factionalism in the BDP was orchestrated by him and the then party Secretary General Daniel Kwelagobe through his memoirs, Very Brave or Very Foolish, the factions in fact started way before them.


Merafhe made reference to the 1977 speech made by Sir Seretse Khama in Gaborone and BDP headquarters when he lambasted certain elements within the party for “wasting precious time engaging in mudslinging, plotting and counter-plotting, while many problems faced our country are unresolved.” Merafhe said in the book that this clearly shows that factions in the party did not begin with him and Kwelagobe. “The only difference is that in the Masire era, it became more voluble, more bellicose and was therefore much more discernible,” he reasoned.


Despite denying that factions were engineered by him, he concedes that he had a troubled relationship with Kwelagobe upon joining politics, “Before I entered politics, I was Kwelagobe’s underling; he headed the Ministry of Public Service and Information, under which BDF fell. When I was a BDF commander Kwelagobe and I got on very well, in politics, our relations took a backflip- we became adversaries, if not near-enemies,” Merafhe wrote.


Merafhe contended that Kwelagobe’s problem was that he wanted to dictate terms and he was too strong and wayward. “On coming aboard the political bandwagon in 1989, I was amazed at the influence Kwelagobe wielded in the BDP,” he argued.


“Exactly how he came to appropriate such disproportionate power was beyond me,” further questioned.


Merafhe said the media also played a role in moulding Kwelagobe into the giant he was by referring to him as a “BDP strongman” something which Merafhe noted had gone to Kwelagobe’s head. “Kwelagobe was not necessarily a liability to the party, he had quite a palpable rapport with the grassroots. If there is one person who could rally them to the Domkrag banner, it was Kwelagobe,” observed Merafhe.


Merafhe viewed Kwelagobe as a man who put more effort on party work than he did in his ministerial remit, “He was implacably intolerant of even constructive views different from his own,” asserted the former Foreign Affair minister.
Merafhe said hell broke loose when he started challenging the views of Kwelagobe and his cronies regarding what he called ‘one sided’ democracy. Merafhe argued that Kwelagobe seemed to believe that his position on any issue was canonical and therefore had to be tamely embraced by everyone in the party, “Everybody was expected to toe his line- If you did not, if you showed a principled independence of mind, woe betided you.”


Merafhe referred to Kwelagobe, the then Vice President Peter Mmusi and Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri as “troika”. Merafhe said the troika called the shots in the party at his time of arrival in the party. “Clearly, the party was in desperate need of reform. I was convinced of this that I decided to challenge Peter Mmusi for the position of chairman of the party in 1991,” he contended. However Merafhe lost dismally against Mmusi.  That feat repeated itself again in 1993 at Kanye Congress, the second most divisive elective congress after the 2009 Kanye Congress in the history of BDP.


Merafhe said BDP factions were not necessarily stemming from philosophical or strategic differences but were based solely on the clash of egos and certain, inexplicable propensities.”To attempt to point out the error of its ways amounted to insubordination,” he wrote.


According to Merafhe, “The Big Five” faction was not a faction formed by a deliberate design. It was a group which did not agree with the dominance of Kwelagobe and his allies in the party. He insisted in the book that the name “The Big Five” which was used to refer to him, David Magang, Roy Blackbeared, Bahiti Temane and Chapson Butale was a creation of the press, and never deliberate, “Sadly, when a lie is repeated often enough, it graduates to the status of truth. The Big Five was a figment of a fertile imagination. It was created to give an impression that just like the other faction we too had a pecking order,” he noted.


Party faction has been the hallmark of the BDP since the 1990s and Merafhe was of the view that the factions will not go away anytime soon. The factions which later graduated into Barataphathi and A-Team saw the party splitting in 2010, resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) which is now part of a coalition- the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).


Merafhe argued that one reason Masire could not end factions in the 1990s despite is efforts to bring him and Kwelagobe to peace was the fact that they viewed him as a member of Barataphathi, as such he sympathised with Kwelagobe team.” Masire’s mediation could not bear fruit because the perception in our faction was that he had undeclared loyalties with Barataphathi and that they were the ones who prevented from firmly stamping his authority on the party,” he contended.

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