Last Updated
Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
Ten years of BCP 'is no joke'

FRANCISTOWN: After scouting the political landscape in search of glory for the past 10 years, has the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) achieved its target?
By Staff Writer Sat 20 Dec 2014, 06:21 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Ten years of BCP 'is no joke'








This is a question asked by many as the BCP continues to brag about their achievements in the last 10 years as they head for Bobonong where the party holds its fourth congress.

From its formative days, the BCP envisaged itself growing into a party that would subsequently take over the reigns of power from the BDP. But, so far, there is nothing suggesting that the BCP will take over power in the next general election in 2009 or even in 2014.

What they have evidently achieved is ranking third after the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and main opposition Botswana National Front (BNF). The BCP's growth could be measured against the fact that it has one MP and 36 councillors.

Definitely, numbers do not add up here. No wonder the party has been pressing for a hybrid of 'First-Past-The Post' and proportional representation as opposed to the BDP's winner takes all as the preferred system of elections. This record is haunting the BCP and it is bound to force the congress to discuss it as it examines while pondering the future.

Formed in 1998, the BCP can best be described as an offshoot of the main opposition Botswana National Front (BNF). It was after the 1998 BNF debacle in Palapye after tumultuous BNF congress that some party MPs decided to form their own party.

Amongst those who led the formation of the party were the fallen heroes Maitshwarelo Dabutha, Paul Rantao and Sidwell Gabatshwane. Other surviving politicians who were part of the 11 MPs are Vain Mamela, Gilson Saleshando, James Pilane and Michael Dikgake. The others, Isaac Mabiletsa, Mokgweetsi Kgosipula and Otlaadisa Koosaletsa have since returned to the BNF.

The first meeting to plot the formation of the BCP was in Mochudi at the Radikolo Junior Secondary School in 1998. Party slogans, colours, the name and other important things were decided at this meeting.

It was the delegates from Selebi Phikwe who came up with the name, which sounded like Botswana Congress Front (BCF) until the name was refined by the congress to become the BCP. The initial name was dismissed with the contempt it deserved because some people did not want anything to do with their former party. Even the party colours of gold, which stands out in the BF colours, was rejected outright.

Othaile Mabaila, former councillor and BCP activist created the party slogan of 'kgololo' which roughly translated means freedom. By breaking away from the BNF, the group led by majority MPs felt that they had gained some freedom from Dr. Kenneth Koma who was then leader of the BNF and was accused of treating the BNF like his personal property.

"The BNF politics was dominated by politics of personality cult then. We wanted to move to politics that cherished consensus and collective decision making," says a BCP activist.

It was also at Radikolo JSS that the party colours of black, green and white were agreed upon. BCP secretary general, Taolo Lucas, says the golden colour, which depicts progressive politics of the BNF, was resisted.

As for the rainbow on the BCP logo, which is associated with peace, it was Kabelo Lebotse, Botshabelo Bagwasi, and Gobe Matenge who, on registering the party, included the rainbow at the office of the registrar of societies.

As the BCP prepared for the registration process, there was a court case pending, which pitted the BNF leadership of Koma against those that had broken away to form the BCP.

Within the same year in 1998, Dingake who was previously the BNF vice president, was endorsed by the party at a Selebi Phikwe congress as its first elected president with the late Peba Sethantsho as his pioneering deputy.

In 2001, Koosaletse was elected in Mochudi as the BCP's second president until Saleshando took over at the congress held in Letlhakane. The party goes to Bobonong under the guidance of Saleshando who prides himself as one of the founders of the party.
He maintains that they have always depicted the BCP as a beacon of hope and an example of good governance.

"We have proved to all and sundry that we are a force to reckon with in terms of our growth. We were dismissed as a party without direction before but our record is showing that we have a clear path and good record," says Saleshando.

In the 1999 general election, the BCP was elected by about 40,000 and was able to overtake some of the oldest parties in the country. "We further demonstrated our strength in 2004 when about 70,000 people voted for the BCP. This is a clear sign that BCP is not a project formed on a weak foundation".

Saleshando describes the BCP as an agent for positive change and offers Batswana some choice. He credits his party with having attained some stability and growth ever since it was formed. He is pleased that at least the party is showing where it is going and where it comes from.

So, Saleshando says he has every reason to join his party members and commemorate the party's 10th anniversary proudly. "We will continue celebrating our achievements openly - re celebrata re ntshitse dihuba".

Saleshando says it is how the BCP continues running its business that it was able to attract parties like Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM), National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Mahalapye based Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) to its side.

"We have provided political space that people can use to pursue their rights and our voice continues to be heard," explains Saleshando.

Mamela, who was previously BNF and later BCP MP, describes the BCP as a viable project. "We have achieved a lot through participating on matters that bordered on enriching democracy as we continued forcing the government to account for its actions," he says.

He asserts that for a party to achieve all its targets, it has to have sufficient funds. "With our little resources we have been able to reach out to the people and train our cadres in many respects. Party structures in the rural areas are very weak, but if we could have enough funds we would be able to reach out even more".

All in all, he says the party is there to stay and cannot be easily pushed from the political forum as it has become one of the major players.

BCP's first president, Dingake says one of the things that caused the return of some of former MPs to the BNF was the name BCP, which they thought would not help them achieve their political ambitions. It was the late Rantao who returned to the BNF and was later followed by Mabiletsa who is a BNF MP in Kgatleng.

Summarising his assessment of the BCP Dingake said: " After 10 years, it is not too bad for the growth of a party of the stature of the BCP".

The BCP's secretary general, Lucas says peace and stability that exists in he BCP separates his party from others.

He says his party goes to its fourth congress in Bobonong over the weekend where there will be festivities as part of the party's 10th anniversary. He says the BCP has learnt to deal with differences within its fold without blowing them out of proportion.

"Like any other political organisations we have had a fair share of problems. But, it is how we resolve our differences that determines whether there is noise thereafter or the issue die away," says Lucas. He stresses that his party subscribes to social democratic ideals of respect, social justice, participatory democracy, and equitable treatment of persons.

"We hold these values to be sacrosanct and we don't simply talk about them but live them," he declares. To him, every organisation must be anchored on principles of cohesion, order and discipline.

At the BCP, Lucas says, they detest a situation where conflict and stability are treated as part of existence. "In the BCP, we have differed in the past, but it is how we handled our differences that mattered," he adds.

The BCP relationship with the British Labour party has apparently helped stabilise the party. He concedes that the British Labour Party has helped them in organisational management, as they have existed for over 100 years.

"They have been very helpful. Most of our leaders have been to the Labour Party conferences and have learnt one or two things. Training programmes run and financed by the British have played a major role in enhancing progress at the BCP," says Lucas.

University of Botswana (UB) political scientist, Dr. Zibani Maundeni says what is important is that to exist for 10 years as a party, taking into consideration the circumstances under which the BCP was founded 'is no joke'.

"The BCP has stood the test of time and has broadened democracy in this country. They have also made some contribution through their single MP in Parliament and over the years they have been growing," says Maundeni.

Maundeni says he is not certain whether recruiting from other parties helped the growth of the BCP or Batswana who are not politically aligned helped it.

He says as the BCP goes to its congress over the weekend, it has every reason to celebrate the 10th anniversary for that is what they have fought for. Most importantly, he says the party has enjoyed some stability, which distinguishes them from other parties and makes the anniversary worthy of celebrating.

If information reaching Mmegi that the BCP fourth congress will have no elections because the party faithful have passed a motion of confidence in the current leadership, that will go a long way in reflecting the BCP as the most stable party.

But of course some people go to the party congresses to choose a new leadership and this will torment those who vie for elections. By Wednesday reports indicated that there were no lobby lists for leadership positions.

Ten years after breaking away from the BNF, and about a year after the BNF walked out of opposition talks, the BNF has written to the BCP proposing to resuscitate the talks. Both parties seem to have put the past behind them although there are pockets of resistance here and there.

The past general election and by-elections have proved that it is almost a far fetched dream for any opposition party to think of ousting the ruling party on its own. This seems to be the driving force behind the latest proposal. The BNF, under Otsweletse Moupo, has apparently had enough problems following the Molepolole congress to the extent that it wants to appease the hordes of Batswana who are thirsty for an alternative government.



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