Mmegi Online :: Ketlhoilwe’s political journey
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Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 13:42 pm.
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Ketlhoilwe’s political journey

FRANCISTOWN: Botswana Congress Party's (BCP) Reuben Ketlhoilwe was this week the cynosure of all eyes as his persistence to win a council seat paid off after nearly two decades of failed attempts.
By Ryder Gabathuse Fri 25 May 2018, 14:20 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Ketlhoilwe’s political journey








He beat his more fancied competition to a political game he says required tact. He won the Moselewapula by-election convincingly under the banner of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) by garnering 317 votes followed by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Gilbert Boikhutso via 285 votes whilst newcomer Alliance for Progressives (AP) represented by Odireleng Ditshotlo got 139 votes.

In an interview this week, Ketlhoilwe detailed his political journey that is characterised by ups and downs, perseverance and success.

The 59-year-old Nata-born politician reminisced how he started off with politics and in his case, his journey unusually started off from his primary school days.

“I started off with politics from as early in my life as my primary school days at Nata Primary School,” the soft-spoken Ketlhoilwe says with a seemingly forced smile. “I was taught by a certain teacher who originated from Zimbabwe, a certain Mpofu who was able to identify my political interest from that young age. He encouraged me to take politics and law seriously insisting that I will make it,” remembers Ketlhoilwe with a giggle.

Mpofu had advised Ketlhoilwe to pursue law as his career from primary school and even stressed that politics is his other area of interest. “He had informed me that I should choose law as a career. At the time, I was fond of providing guidance to my peers and as for errant pupils I will parade them before teachers to correct them and at the same time I had a tendency to protect fellow pupils,” he says taking a journey down the memory lane.

“I remember one pupil who had stolen some berries from school and before the morning assembly, I dragged him before the head teacher and mind you, he was older than me. I remember telling the head teacher that the pupil might have found it normal to steal the berries because from his tribe, they are used to harvesting berries in the bush,” he says indicating that these are some of the experiences that taught him leadership skills. As for political consciousness, Ketlhoilwe enjoyed reading the government-sponsored Daily News and he enjoyed mainly reading stories on the Botswana National Font (BNF) founding father the late Dr Kenneth Koma. He read a lot about Koma although he did not even know him. As Mpofu was equally interested in local opposition politics, Ketlhoilwe had a regular supply of the local newspaper that he gobbled with passion.

Whenever Mpofu and his pupil met, the teacher would ask: “Yareng Daily News…A reng Koma (What does the newspaper say on Koma and the BNF)”. From Nata, Ketlhoilwe relocated to Francistown where he completed his Primary School Leaving Examinations at Tatitown Primary School and passed but, because of his parents’ inability to pay his school fees, he could not further his studies. He would then join the army and sponsored himself to complete the Junior Certificate Examinations.

At the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Ketlhoilwe read a lot of publications on Nelson Mandela and everything that came his way mainly political literature.

Whilst a serving member of the BDF, he became accustomed to politicians Raphael Sikwane, Khays Phitshana and others who were then active BNF members.

He would also once in a while sneak into the camp, some BNF political publication, Puo Phaa that was shared with as many soldiers as possible. It came a time when his army bosses came to suspect that Ketlhoilwe was the source of political publications circulating in the army camp. That was just a suspicion without any tangible evidence against him.

“We were monitored a lot by the Military Intelligence (MI) and I was not surprised one day when my commander in the Air Defence regiment chided me about my involvement in politics.” One of the days he was taken on an official trip and whilst on this trip, his superiors offered that they be out of nowhere, be

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searched. Normally, when he was included on a trip he would take with him some of the political publications and help himself whilst on trip. That time, he did not take that risk.

He was now alert to the reality that someone somewhere was eavesdropping on his activities, but that would not stop him from pursuing his love. “Around 1994, I started collecting money from some of the soldiers in the opposition to boast the opposition coffers in Francistown during the elections year, because we could see at the time that the BNF had great potential.”

Feeling that he could not operate underground any longer, Ketlhoilwe resigned from the army holding the rank of Warrant Officer II in the winter of 1994 and was the Air Defence instructor. He was forced to make a choice between the army and his newfound love in politics.

Having joined civilian life, Ketlhoilwe would later go into government employ as a driver at the Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in 1999.  This helped him interact with the unionised Manual Workers Union although his stay with the union did not last as he differed a lot with the union leadership.

“I found the leadership of Johnson Motshwarakgole and others a bit oppressive and that’s why I decided to quit,” he said.

Ketlhoilwe is not a newcomer in local politics, as he has tried his luck several times without success. Under the BCP banner, he had tried his luck at the Itekeng ward in 1999 when the BCP was still new as a break away group from the BNF.

He remembers in 1999 trying to sell the BCP and was met with a lot of resistance from the Botswana Railways employees at their premises preventing him from doing house-to-house campaigns, as they were mainly BNF. He tried his luck and lost in the general elections.

In 2004, he tried his luck in the Francistown South constituency where he enjoyed the politics of veteran politicians like Vain Mamela and still failed to win before he relocated to the Gerald Estates in the Francistown-West constituency.

In 2009, when he was just about to contest the elections under the BCP banner something happened that distracted him. His fellow comrades Whyte Marobela and others were fired from the party in a manner that left him believing that it was without principle and in solidarity with his comrades, he left the BCP.

“After our departure, Marobela and company wanted to become independents and I told them we were going to lose if we were to take that route. I informed them that we were joining the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and they obliged.”

Ketlhoilwe stood for the council elections at Moselewapula and lost to Johnson Moremi of the BDP with a margin of 25 votes and this gave him hope that one day he will win.

In 2014 general elections, Ketlhoilwe became a perennial loser and this time around losing to the late Lechedzani Modenga whom he accused of voter trafficking.

At the time of Modenga’s death, Ketlhoilwe was preparing to turn the tables in the 2019 general elections as “I had already read his tricks and was destined to teach him a lesson”.

To him, Modenga’s death has robbed him of the real action that he had prepared himself for against the BDP or any party.

He is confident that Moselewapula residents were on his side after building trust and proving his mettle as the chairperson of the Village Development Committee (VDC) where he claimed to have performed with aplomb.

After cementing his relationship with the residents in the three years as the helmsman chairing the VDC, he says his council responsibilities have really been cut for him.

“I don’t think we are going to lose the ward to any party because we have done everything to the residents of Moselewapula. What more do you think they want?” wonders Ketlhoilwe as the interview winds up.

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