Mmegi Online :: Politics is a dirty game
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Friday 19 January 2018, 18:00 pm.
Politics is a dirty game

Former Cabinet minister DAVID MAGANG on Tuesday launched his mermoirs: The magic of perseverance. A book that critics say does not hold punches. We here publish excerpts from the Book.
By Staff Writer Sun 21 Jan 2018, 01:12 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Politics is a dirty game

When people say politics is a dirty game, they are not simply out to denigrate the pursuit; they speak more or less the truth.

From the very first day I stepped into politics, its baseness was not only apparent; it was loudly asserted. I knew before I took the plunge that I was not joining apostolate, but I had certainly underestimated the extent of its depravity, truth to tell. After all, we were Batswana, a people not given to extremes of moral turpitude, more friendly than inimical, more affectionate than hating. It did not take me long to disabuse myself of this hallucinatory notion: I had given my people too much idiosyncratic credit. Even more tragic was that the machinations, which at the time were a byword of the politics of my party, were played out on me with particular vindictiveness: practically no one else bore the brunt of this onslaught to the same extent I did.

My radical and revivalist views on the politics of my party, BDP, were well known even before I entered mainstream politics. This stance, tragically, was misconstrued; so much was read into it that I early on earned the wrath and ire of the party's movers and shakers. Thus, even when I was campaigning for a parliamentary seat in September 1979, forces were already ranged against me that were determined to block my entry into the big league. It happened that at this very time, a company of which I was part, Botoka Construction (which was commercially viable though in the face of a liquidity crisis) was under investigation for possible criminal charges after my European partners skipped the country to escape the mountain of debts the company had a accumulated, leaving me to face the music alone. My adversaries in the party seized on this possible slur on my reputation to champion my banishment from contesting the elections.

On September 14, 1979, Peter de Putron, the Managing Director of Builders Merchants, one of Botoka Construction's major creditors, disclosed to me that their lawyer, Richard Lyons, had approached him in a bid to persuade Builders Merchants to institute criminal action against the directors of Botoka Construction. De Putron, who was somewhat taken aback by Lyons' move, was reluctant to co-operate. Indeed, when he consulted Builders Merchants' London office, they vehemently rejected the idea, preferring instead to deal with the matter civilly and level-headedly. The Attorney-General, Moleleki Mokama, too, took a laudably non-partisan view of the matter: he expressly stated to me that he would not countenance the idea of criminal proceedings being brought against Botoka Construction, as it was clear it was all the work of my political detractors, whom he knew well. At the time Mokama and I were not on the most comradely of terms, and so fin him to have taken the position he did was a vivid demonstration of just how spiteful and despicable the whole plot was.

The antagonism I met at the onset of my political pilgrimage Was a wake-up call: it alerted me to the worrisome but inescapable fact that I already had enemies within the ranks of the party and government who stood to make life very difficult for me, and for this I had to brace myself. This realisation did not surprise me much; rivalries are not a rarity within political groupings, no matter how cohesive they are. What caught me completely off guard, what I found paradoxical in the extreme, was that my most determined file was not your usual, far-off detractor, but a cousin of mine. If there was one person who made my political life uncomfortable, it was my cousin Daniel Kwelagobe. This he did unblushingly, with impunity and with a zealotry that was rare and which was unprecedented in the politics of my country. That he was secretary-general of the BDP nude him even more audacious.

What on earth did I do to my cousin for him to mark me out as his political t()e? There is no particular transgression that I can point to as the factor that triggered this polarisation. In that case then, only he and his faction can be relied upon to set out the grounds for my arraignment before the court of posterity. Some people are of the view that they (the DK faction) were intimidated, or rendered uneasy, by my education, which I seemed to flaunt and without which I would not have been as courageous and daring as I was in taking on the party. Others say they were revolted by what they were convinced were my presidential ambitions, when I was a relatively late entrant into the political fold. Why should I gatecrash my way into contention when there were people like them who were already in the wings? Still others opined that they could not stand my honesty and forthrightness, which went against the grain, this being characterised by sycophancy and bootlicking of some sort. My own take on the matter is that their aversion to me was an amalgam of all these elements.

The one thing that put the two of us on a collision course more than any other was DK's inflated sense of self-worth vis-a-vis the BDP Somehow mysteriously, he and the BOP became synonymous, particularly with the departure of Seretse, and this sent his ego soaring into the stratosphere; it besotted him. He so choreographed this view that all the parry heavyweights, including Quett Masire, were hypnotised in the belief that he was the very pulse of the party, its anchor and cornerstone, even though popular support for the BDP was gradually dwindling. Even PHK, whose intellect towered head and shoulders over DK's, made it a point that he was always on his side. The press dubbed him 'BDP Strongman', and they were right in a way.

From day one of my embarking on active politics in 1976, I spoke witheringly of the sacred cow mentality that seemed entrenched within the ranks of the party, through speeches and written critiques only party members were privy to. I made it clear that no one person owned the BDP and that no one was indispensable. We were all servants of the people and therefore had a duty to abide by the rules and ordinances of the parry, to be exemplary both in word and deed. The leadership took this to be a broadside against them; as far as they were concerned, I had to be strategically cut to I size, which explained why I was never elected to the party Central Committee.

On more than three occasions, Quett Masire, tentatively I believe, asked me why DK and Gus in particular resented me so much. At first, I feigned ignorance; then later I charged that I found his question amusing: to me DK and Gus were his ears and eyes and it went without saying that he was fully au fair with the causes of enmity between us. Masire's own take was that my education and apparent success in business had more to do with it than anything else.

Putting aside the fact that he was the party secretary-general and therefore had to constantly liaise with the president, was DK's closeness to Masire opportunistic or merely adventitious? Before the passing of Seretse Khama, DK was hardly beholden to Masire; if anything, he was a Seretse Khama acolyte. The one positive thing about DK is that he is unfailingly loyal: once you enlist him to your side or cause, he sticks by you through thick and thin, if you are a person of clout, that is. In other words, he was a sucker for the skilful manipulation of the powers-that-be, but he was no blind loyalist: by doing their bidding, he expected something in return their equally unflagging support, especially in the jockeying for power in the party. Thus, when the guys at the helm wanted to confront or tame 'rabblerousers' in the party, they used DK as their proxy, hence people's wary treatment of him as a 'hit man', meaning their cudgel. Once, I took issue with Quett Masire that whilst it was within his discretion to use people like DK as a 'hit man', to simultaneously use them as his advisers was rather untoward; for they were liable to twist matters to suit their own personal agenda and therefore create undue enemies for him.

Masire certainly thought I was trying to cosy up to and ingratiate myself with him at the expense of DK, but if he is reading this book he cannot help but agree with me retrospectively. The major reason I did not get along, with Masire was simply because he was deliberately misled by people who were out to maliciously drive a wedge between us. When I successfully convinced my colleagues in parliament to rally behind Masire for succession to the presidency after the death of Seretse, this boomeranged back at me: the message Masire got was that I was actually enlisting support to challenge him for the presidency and intelligence operatives were posted outside Patrick Balopi's house, where we gathered round the clock for six continuous days to strategise in favour of Masire. As it was, Masire was taken in: he believed these concoctions throughout his tenure. In the process, my relationship with Masire was always under strain, when we should have been the best of friends.

In 1998, the BDP secretary-general launched what was to become a daily obsession to interfere in the affairs of my Lentsweletau constituency, quite unnecessary interference. He began peddling the claptrap that I was making a shambles of my constituency, that I was running it rather fecklessly and in an off-handed manner. He claimed that people had filed a remonstrative report to him, in his capacity as party secretary-general; those people were his cronies. As a result of these unfounded allegations, my constituency committee requested an audience with President Masire and it was duly convened at State House; also present were Vice President Festus Mogae and DK himself. DK was cantankerous and boisterous, in a bid, clearly, to disguise his arguments' lack of substance: he was repeatedly called to order by the president for what was patently puerile conduct.

The meeting raged from eight at night to two in the morning. When it concluded, the president said he would appoint a commission to investigate the allegations. Much to the secretary-general's chagrin, the commission, headed by his then friend Ray Molomo, unearthed nothing untoward or impugning about how I conducted affairs in my constituency. Unable to face up to these humiliating findings, the secretary-general charged that the inquiry was rigged; he was therefore going to conduct his own investigations. If he thought he was going to vindicate himself, he was totally mistaken: he was, in fact, put in the dock by my constituency officials, who wondered aloud where he got the guts to poke his nose into the affairs of a constituency that was not his. Had he been a frank, straight talking person, he would have confessed to looking out for an excuse to elbow out David Magang and have him replaced by Gus Matlhabaphiri. The treatment he got stopped just short of stone-pelting and I thought he deserved it, for he had brought all this opprobrium on himself.

What was singular about DK's hostility towards me was that he allowed emotion to creep into almost everything in which I featured, even when there was no direct or personal benefit to me. In matters pertaining to service to the people, he should have been detached enough to realise that my failure or Success as cabinet minister or member of parliament reflected as much on him, as a member of the party in power, as it did on me. DK, however, did not seem to see things that way: if there was a development which promised to cast me in a progressive light and therefore earn me a bit of public acclaim, he frowned on it and did his utmost to stymie it. A case in point is the tarring of the Lephepe and Lensweletau roads, which went through my constituency. These had been designated for tarring in the National Development Plan and when "the time came for parliament to signal the commencement of work in this respect, DK virtually threw a tantrum in his opposition to the project. When the matter came up for discussion, I was laid low in hospital in the aftermath of the Kweneng East road accident and it fell to other, far-sighted ministers such as Chapson Butale and Bahiti Temane to fence with him on my behalf in parliament and consequently to expose his myopia. It struck me as odd that where he should have gleefully welcomed a further developmental stride in his district of origin, he was so overtaken by prejudice that he was blinded to the beauty of it all: the glory would go to Magang and so away with the project, he reasoned. Certainly, for a person who was hell-bent on having me dislodged from my charge of Lensweletau constituency, any development

There haunted him: I would dispossess him of the excuse with which to lambast my 'incompetence'. Yet these roads were crucial, particularly the Molepolole-Lephepe road, which became the A2 north-south highway, running parallel to highway A1, the Gaborone-Francistown road.

The one mistake that DK made, whether wittingly or otherwise, was to attribute every one of his woes to me, to believe every negative thought he conjured up about me: instead of interpreting me as I really was - I have always been an open book - he invented a new image of me which was so at variance with the familiar picture that I basically became a cyborg. If he had been only a shade rational, he would have taken 'time-out' to deliberate with himself as to whether it served me any good to war against him. This will obviously surprise him, but at no stage of my political career did I regarded him as a real threat or obstacle of any kind. At best, he was a spoiler, and if I had presidential ambitions, I never counted him as a possible challenger: Not only were we poles apart in many respects, but I was of the view that he was as good as irrelevant in that regard. Even when he made an art of vilifying my character, what worried and concerned me was the spuriousness and outrageousness of the things he said, not that he made me feel insecure. After all, his failure to garner the merest support in dislodging me from my constituency bordered on the legendary. If I had failed as a politician, I would certainly not have cited him as a factor.

Besides believing all he imagined me to be, the other mistake DK made was to believe every unflattering word he heard I had said of him: he nodded approvingly to all that he was told without the slightest attempt at separating the chaff from the grain. I was far wiser in that respect, in that I did not believe every negative thing said of me that was attributed to, or associated with, him. I was level-headed enough to recognise that even the most heartless of one's enemies had their limits, that even the daftest scatterbrain was capable of some reason. For example, on September 15, 1993, I was informed that DK and Peter Mmusi were planning to hire a Mochudi-based Korean 'hit man' - in the literal sense of the word - to eleiminate us, those, that is, whom they abhorred. And on November 26 the same year, I was entreated to fortify myself with muti, as DK and his fellow detractors had, so it was said, scoured the Okavango


and Soweto for fundis in witchcraft to set on me. I dismissed both suggestions with the contempt they deserved, for I was convinced that for all his seething hatred of me, DK, let alone Peter Mmusi, would not go to such barbaric lengths just to be rid of me. I am not sure whether DK would have reacted similarly h3d he been the one receiving briefs of the kind that fingered me as the plotter.

The publication of the Kgabo Report in 1991 and the scalps it claimed in its wake further widened the rift between DK and me. The Kgabo Report was as a result of a commission of inquiry into suspect land dealings in Mogoditshane and Tlokweng, in which at least R41 plot') were said to have been acquired using underhand methods. At the centre of the storm were the vice president and the minister of agriculture. In the ensuing rumpus, the two were forced to resign from cabinet. DK, as a backbencher, became increasingly hostile and confrontational towards me: in p3rliamcnt, for instance, he took to interrupting me rudely through heckling and interjection, forcing me to angrily tell him that I was not the person responsible for his ejection from cabinet; rather it was his own deeds.

On May 15, 1994, I was talking with Ephraim Setshwaelo while he was still a member of the BDP and as we conversed I enquired of him whether he could venture an explanation in regard to DK's obsessive, almost pathological hate of me. Setshwaelo advanced two main reasons: firstly, DK thought I was the leader of the cabinet pack that pressed the president to drop him in the land deal fall-out; secondly, I was politically allied to people from the north instead of fellow southerners, which to him implied I was some kind of miscreant. The first charge, a truism as far as DK was concerned, was obviously nonsensical. True, I was one of those who thought some sort of come-uppance was in order for those who had been fingered as culprits in the report; this was conventional wisdom and not just sadism. I was, however, not the leading agitator; virtually everybody in cabinet held the same view, although only J few openly made intimations to that effect. For instance, Ray Molol11o said this to the president: If they do not resign on their own, the ball is in your court, sir. We cannot tell you what to do.' The rest of the ministers concurred. It was, nevertheless, the relentless, spirited clamour of the public rather than the exhortations of cabinet that forced the president to act; had the public taken a passive, spectator's view of the whole drama, it is doubtful that the president would have flashed the red card. As regards my so-called affinity for northerners instead of fellow southerners, I regarded this as petty and nonsensical as it demonstrated that some of our leaders had yet to shed their tribal instincts, despite their occupation of the highest offices in the land.

Whilst he was out of cabinet and in order to divert attention from the Mogoditshane land scandal, DK's faction contrived the now discredited, cock-and-bull story that the 'Big 5' were planning to oust President Masire from office. The 'Big 5' were alleged to be Mompati Merafhe, Bahiti Temane, Chapson Butale, Roy Blackbeard and I - all cabinet ministers. The muckraking story was splashed on the front page of The Botswana Guardian with a screaming headline typical of sensationalist, yellow journalism, citing the asual 'reliable sources'. To me, it did not need a special gift of discernment to tell the story for what it was - pure poppycock - but Masire took it very seriously and even called off his trip to West Africa that had fallen due at that point in time.

We sued the newspaper and hired Sydney Pilane, one of Botswana's sharpest and most incisive indigenous lawyers, to prosecute the case. I was the most insistent of the five in taking recourse to litigation, as I did not want the press to get away with murder and therefore encourage them to indulge in similar flights of indiscretion in the future. On January 4, 1993, Pilane informed us that a settlement out of court was imminent, only the source of the story would not be divulged in an explicit, direct manner, but in the elliptical form of 'beware of so-and-so' through a cluttered telephone signal. I took very strong exception to this charade, and insisted on a plain and unequivocal disclosure. Merafe, Butale and Blackbeard, on the other hand, did not mind the idea; for them, a front-page retraction and a compensatory sum were sufficient. Apparently, they had been bidden by the leadership to accept the terms of the settlement and drop the case. I was having none of that and 1 hauled Temane over to my way of thinking. I was puzzled by the gesture of effectively sympathising with the press, when in their notorious habit of shooting from the hip they had no ounce of empathy in them. I was later to learn the underlying reason for the president's plea.

On March 30, 1993, the source of the fantasy story was unveiled: Pilane informed us that The Botswana Guardian's editor, Outsa Mokone, was prepared to disclose that the story had originated from DK's faction. Pilane also said DK would for his part disclose that he had obtained his information from the Special Branch, who were maintaining a round-the-clock surveillance of us. This development did not exactly catch me off guard: I had always had a nagging suspicion that it was my enemies within the party at work, but the involvement of Special Branch did wrong-foot me. What it meant was that our security forces were no longer serving the nation as such, but were under the sway of a faction in the ruling party. This, certainly, was a most troubling phenomenon, especially for the internationally acclaimed democracy that we were.

Of the two of us, it was I who took the first step to remonstrate with the other in a candid, face-to-face encounter. One day in 1992, I picked up the phone and warned DK that I was coming over to his place for lunch to discuss an issue or two with him, a proposition he readily assented to: he was, so it seemed, much more positively disposed to me as a social caller than a fellow political crusader. Whilst at his home, I signalled that it was imperative that his wife sit in on our discussions; I wanted her to be fully apprised of both the object of my mission and the ramifications of the subject, past and present. I registered my unhappiness comprehensively and juristically, going over all the ills he had done me over the years, his frenzied determination to tarnish my image, and the unnecessary enemies he had caused me through inspiration and instigation. His motives, I concluded, remained obscure and he would be doing me a great favour if he made these clear to me.

As per typical DK, he owned up to no single injustice against me; instead, he countered that I had either misconstrued him or read too much into his conduct and pronouncements. In other words, I was seeing smoke where there was no fire whatsoever. To her credit, his wife expressed an open-minded verdict: she evinced a great deal of sympathy for me and implored her husband to make amends. Both her pleadings and my petition fell on deaf ears: DK, it turned out, stuck to his guns and, in fact, upped the tempo. To most people, however, our enmity was not obvious: DK and I got along well socially; it was only in politics that we were Ishmael and Isaac.

The Kweneng sages were as concerned about our fencing as I was: on January 5, 1999, they summoned us to try and help defuse the tension. Keineetse Sebele and two clergymen from Molepolole, Reverend Mmualefhe and Reverend Pheto, called a fence-mending meeting between DK and me, which included another similarly polarised pair, Kgosikwena Sebele, the acting Chief of the BaKwena, and Victor Kgosidintsi, the Chairman of the Kweneng District Counci1.The three moderators called attention to the fact that socio-economic progress in the district was stagnating owing to endless bickering among its most influential personages. Whatever David Magang undertook to do, for instance, DK set out to demolish and undo, regardless of the merit in the position or action. This battle of egos was a black mark on the dignity of the country's most senior tribe, as it was a common feature in the print and electronic media and people were becoming fed up with the soap opera. The warring just had to stop if any of us had the interests of the tribe and the country at heart. For my part, I moved for total absolution, being the one that was always at the receiving end of the diatribes; OK, as usual, was adamant that he was not the guilty party either. I thought such a gesture by our tribal elders would sober and disarm him a bit, but he continued his trademark swipes at me; there was no force under the sun that could rein him in, apparently.

BESIDES DK, my other political nemesis was Gus Matlhabaphiri. In terms of his adversarial stance towards me, he was the equal of DK, a clone really; the closeness of the two was by no means coincidental. If there was a difference between the two, it was merely that DK was the more vociferous; otherwise, they were equally rancorous.

Unlike DK, Matlhabaphiri's hatred of me was not intuitive; he was simply recruited to the 'cause', his conversion having been gradual rather than instantaneous. I say this because there was a stage when Gus and I got on reasonably well. We could not be said to have been buddies as such, but we were certainly not at odd<;. As Secretary-General of the BDP Youth Wing, he was so warmly disposed cowards me that at the 1981 BOP Congress in Selebi-Phikwe, he even provided me with a mole's brief of the stratagems of the party executive, which were not in my favour. J once spent a night at his home in London, when he was our High Commissioner to the UK, and when I was appointed to my first cabinet post I heard of this on the radio whilst lunching with him at his home.

Like OK, Gus was demonstrably dedicated to the cause of the party, but somehow he could just not gel with the masses: he flunked parliamentary elections on four occasions, as if he was cursed. But thanks to his powerful connections in the party and government, not least among whom was the steamrollering OK, he was always foisted onto the legislature through the specially elected MP option, or given a diplomatic posting, until his luck finally fizzled out.

Whilst he was in London, Gus doubled as both a diplomat and a fundraiser for the BDP, and in regard to the latter he did an excellent job: at one BDP Congress in Tlokweng, he boasted that he had raised half-a-million pounds for the party, although it later emerged that he meant half-a-million pula!

Gus and I fell out irreconcilably in the wake of the Kgabo Commission Report on that infamous land deal. The Kgabo Report made the highly imprudent blunder of quoting snippets of my testimony and in a manner that suggested I was rooting for retribution for those implicated. The attribution was of course given a barbed slant, which I believe was inadvertent, but the damage had already been done: Gus and company instantly hauled me right up to the rank of enemy number one. Plans, overseen by DK, were immediately hatched up to oust me from my Lensweletau constituency and have me replaced by Gus, or, failing which, his cousin Victor Kgosidintsi. I read all these theatrics largely as a desperate measure to sell a candidate who had been a serial failure, at the expense of the party and me: instead of making concerted efforts to entrench an MP who was popular with the masses, factional rivalry militated against this political rectitude.

Since they - Gus and the other members of his faction - had become subverters of the established order, my reaction was equally austere: where I could, I thwarted their attempts to hold propaganda TJl1ies in my constituency. In this, I was more tolerant of opposition parties like the BNF, who had every right to hold such rallies, more so them members of my own party who should have been restrained by the party president from undermining a sitting MP on the basis of a purely personal vendetta. They were, however, intractable and worked around the clock to turn sentiment against me, their nefarious philosophy being that if they were my enemies everybody else ought to be my enemy too. Kabo Morwaeng and Major-General Moeng Pheto later confessed to me that they were also made to hate me without a single reason in the world. They have since become good friends of mine, with Pheto succeeding me as MP for Lensweletau following my resignation. He did so with my personal encouragement and support during the by-elections and, later, the 2004 general election. When it came to the virulence with which it is possible to hold a grudge, no one was as implacable as Gus Matlhabaphiri. DK could resent you, but he would invariably greet you or clown with you. But when Gus had a grudge against you, it meant he would have nothing to do with you whatsoever: no greetings, no liberties, no addressing a single word to you, no sympathies. Even if you extended an olive branch, he reacted in the coldest way imaginable.

As with my frosty relationship with DK, our tribal elders tried their utmost to have Gus and me reconciled, though this was advisory as opposed to convocative; it was the best they could do, as Gus would never have heeded appeals for a face-to-face attempt at rapprochement, given the inveterateness of his ill-feelings towards me. The most persistent efforts to bring us together were made by Willie Seboni and Samson Kgakge, uncle to Gus, both of whom are now deceased. When they first called me to sound me out on the idea, to which I consented, they wondered what on earth I had done to DK and Gus, who had portrayed me as unconscionably, wicked. But the elders died before they could get us together; certainly, the evasiveness and reluctance of Gus made their wish practically unattainable.

Of my political rivals, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, or PHK as he was affectionately addressed, was the least extreme and the most civilized. He would not have wished me to be rammed into lifelessness by a police truck, but neither was he likely to envelope me in a bear hug. I do not know the full extent of the uncomplimentary things he said about me out of earshot, but he was clearly the most candid of my detractors: he did not hesitate to take a verbal swing at me, especially in parliamentary deliberation, although his manner was more gentlemanly than boorish. On the one or two occasions I dared him to deny or confirm his seemingly prejudiced stand against a matter that involved me or Phakalane, he straight away owned up rather than ranting defensively. And when I lay sick in Princess Marina Hospital nursing my accident injury, PHK was the only one of my political rivals to visit me.

Source - The magic of perseverance: The Autobiography of David Magang, Publisher - CASAS, Pages 686, Available at Exclusive Books


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