Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is predominately associated with its founding stalwarts like Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile Masire and Moutlakgola Nwako to mention but a few – but the party’s history will make little sense without the mention of the name Mompati Merafhe. Although a late entrant into the BDP, his arrival created controversy that lasted for years where upon his arrival he made his ambitions for the presidency clear, a move that would put him at axis with fellow party loyalist polarizing the organisation for years.
In 1989 following another triumph for the BDP at the polls, like it has been the norm, then President Sir Ketumile Masire announced a number of Specially Elected Members of Parliament, but this time around the list comprised of influential men who will change the history of the party forever – Festus Mogae who fate will offer him the second most powerful position on the land three years later, and Mompati Merafhe who would then find himself fighting unending factional wars with stalwarts like Daniel Kwelagobe and Ponatshego Kedikilwe.
Mogae had been plucked from the civil service where he had worked with President Masire for the better part of his civil service career mostly as his Permanent Secretary. On the other hand, Merafhe who was two years shy of nearing his retirement age had been lured from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) where he served as the army commander since its formation in 1977.
When he arrived in 1989 for the sixth parliament, a tumult time for the ruling BDP, Merafhe found a party readying for something big. It was expected that President Masire, who was now aging, was about to retire from office. The status quo favoured the then Vice President, Peter Mmusi to become the successor.
With him getting along with the president and having support of the most powerful party stalwarts, Kwelagobe and Kedikilwe, his fate was almost sealed. David Magang had also expressed his desire for the presidency, but his chances ranged from slim to none given his relationship with Masire and Kwelagobe – the Mmusi faction then. Masire never got along with Magang, largely owing to his views about government and the need for reforms within the party.
When Merafhe arrived, the army general swiftly aligned himself with those who were on the opposite side of Kwelagobe-Mmusi axis. This saw the birth of the Big Five faction comprised of David Magang, Mompati Merafhe, Roy Blackbeard, Bahiti Temane and Chapson Butale.
The faction pushed for Merafhe and supported his presidential bid. President Masire had seemed to be sympathetic to the Kwelagobe-Mmusi faction largely because it was made up of people who were members of his Central Committee and most importantly his foot soldiers.
As the Secretary General of the party, Kwelagobe wielded power and was the most influential in the party. Coupled with his workaholic virtue, Kwelagobe used to traverse the country to canvass for support and build party structures something which ensured that the Big Five faction was kept out of the central committee. For many years, party President Masire, its Chairman Peter Mmusi, Secretary General Daniel Kwelagobe and Treasurer Kedikilwe remained invincible.
The watershed moment for Merafhe and the Big Five came in 1992, when Vice President Peter Mmusi and Minister of Agriculture Daniel Kwelagobe were implicated in land allocation scandal which ensnared them as having acted wrongly in allocation of plots in Mogoditshane.
The report which steered unprecedented divisions within the party was instigated by Mmusi himself following uneasy complaints about land corruption in Mogoditshane and other peri-urban areas. Mmusi was also a minister of Local Government and Lands and he had to act – rightly so, he convinced President Masire to set up a commission of inquiry. The report was chaired by founding party veteran Englishman Kgabo and its findings which were to be known as the Kgabo Report left the BDP vastly polarized.
Merafhe’s faction pushed for the suspension of the duo, and after months of resistance the two bowed out of government, leaving the party in chaos. Mmusi resigned as the country’s Vice President and Minister of Local Government and Lands, the only Vice President to have done so; while Kwelagobe also cleared his table at the Ministry of Agriculture.
These events however left Masire in a vulnerable position without his two trusted men in government and had to act to find the replacement for his number two. Kwelagobe-Mmusi faction preferred Kedikilwe for Vice Presidency while the Big Five wanted Merafhe to be given the nod.
Sensing a perilous situation on the party’s way, Masire bypassed the two and instead opted for Festus Mogae mainly because he was not tainted by factional wars and because he never showed any presidential ambitions. Many, both in Mmusi-Kwelagobe and the Big Five understood Mogae’s appointment as stopgap and they could still launch a comeback for vice presidential bid after the 1994 general elections.
Merafhe had won, but it did not last for a long time. The Mmusi-Kwelagobe faction was convinced that Merafhe has plotted their downfall and as the Minister Presidential Affairs and Public Administration he packed the entire investigating team with people who were loyal to his course. Pondering their next move and imagining life outside government the duo approached the courts to challenge the legality of the commission and its findings.
Subsequently, the duo was suspended from the party for challenging the findings of the Kgabo Commission – a case they ultimately won. The court ruled that the proceedings of the commission should not have been held in camera therefore the findings of the report were set aside.
In the run up to the 1993 Kanye Congress, the Big Five took over the control of the party, and condemned the two forever. The situation now meant that, the once powerful men will be out of both government and the party highest governing structure something they could not imagine happening in their life time.
Merafhe had declared that he will be contesting the party chairmanship, a position which is general associated with the vice presidency in the BDP. However following their victory at the court in regard to their case, lawyers for Mmusi and Kwelagobe told the party that their clients were entitled to contest elections at the congress. In turn, the party sought and was furnished with legal opinion advising that the party and government could not be regarded as one entity. This meant the two won the day, again the Big Five’s hopes were shattered.
In the ensuing elections Mmusi-Kwelagobe retained their positions as chairman and secretary general respectively. Kedikilwe also retained his position as Secretary General. Meanwhile the internal bickering did not stop, even ahead of the crucial 1994 general elections. In the process, Merafhe’s rival Mmusi passed on following an illness associated with depression resulting from his demotion from the Vice Presidency.
The 1994 general elections saw for the first time Botswana National Front (BNF), the only opposition party in parliament registering 13 seats, a development which meant that the BNF needed eight more seats in the next general elections to condemn BDP to the pastures. It was in fact said the party went to the 1994 general elections as two parties in one, with the other faction riving the party apart. Among the victims were four cabinet Ministers.
In the absence of Mmusi, Kwelagobe pushed for Kedikilwe as his replacement. DK as Kwelagobe is popularly known never wanted the presidency for himself but was more influential as a kingmaker through the use of his influence in the party and its structures. He helped recruit PHK from civil service and was convinced the man had what it takes. Their faction was renamed Kwelagobe-Kedikilwe faction and later, Barataphathi.
President Masire had intended to leave office immediately after the 1994 general elections. With discontent also growing over his leadership, he was under pressure to go, but could not leave the house on fire. Kwelagobe and Merafhe were not showing any signs of getting along.
Masire stayed, to remedy the situation. The 1995 congress, saw Merafhe vying for the Chairmanship against newly designated president elect of Barataphathi, Kedikilwe. It was much believed that Kedikilwe was more powerful than Mmusi and Merafhe stood no change again. Just like the previous congress, Kwelagobe’s team whitewashed the Big Five, also winning the chairmanship.
There was only one reason why the two were prepared to go to war over the chairmanship. Both viewed it as a stepping stone to the presidency and it was clear that Masire will go before the next general elections; the other reason being that Mogae had no constitutional protection at that time.
In the event that the president leaves office, parliament will convene within seven days to elect a new president. If Masire steps down as the President of the Republic the post of presidency at the party will also fall vacant, something which Kedikilwe knew that it will months before rising to the highest rank. Merafhe knew very well, he could use his support in parliament to also rise. It was an unending war.
Masire was a worried man, wanting to go, the situation kept nagging him. If he left while the status quo was unchanged, Mogae could fall and the party will split. Mogae could not beat neither Kedikilwe nor Merafhe in the event that the Presidential contest remained open. Masire devised a plan that would ensure that Mogae succeeded him smoothly and proposed for automatic succession in the event the president leaves office before the elections. Both Kwelagobe and Merafhe were against the idea, but it was Masire who won the day.
By the time Masire left office at the end of March in 1998, Merafhe has fallen out of the race, this time for the country’s number two. Mogae has already secured his place through the constitutional amendment provision that guaranteed automatic succession. With the race for number two now on, it was David Magang versus Kedikilwe this time around.
The general mood suggested that Mogae will pick Magang, since the two have been close allies since their school days. However, when the opportunity came, Mogae like Masire did in 1992, bypassed the two and instead convinced army general, Lt Gen Ian Khama to quit the post to take over the country’s number two post. On the 2nd of April 1998, Mogae announced Khama as the new vice president.
Ten years later, it was now time for Mogae to go. This time around there was no question on who was going to succeed as it was clear since 1998 when Khama took over as Vice President that he will succeed Mogae as the next president. Following his inauguration on the 2nd of April 2008, Khama announced Mompati Merafhe as the Vice President. This time around it was clear and without bickering that Merafhe will get the nod.
Upon Merafhe’s retirement in 2012, Khama appointed Kedikilwe, who have been Acting in the absence of Merafhe as the new Vice President. Both men, although they did not get the chance to become president, bowed out of politics satisfied.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.