In politics, there are people who make things happen directly and those who call the shots behind the scenes. Mmegi Staff Writer, RYDER GABATHUSE looks at movers and shakers of Francistown politics
FRANCISTOWN: The city’s three constituencies have their own political stories that are as interesting as national politics. Francistown East, South and West are the city’s three constituencies.
From independence, Botswana People’s Party (BPP) dominated local politics in the country’s second city even controlling the then Francistown Town Council before the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ended their dominance.
The late Phillip Matante was the legislator for the then Francistown constituency until 1979, when the BDP represented by businessman-cum veteran politician Patrick Balopi took over.
If it wasn’t for the unfortunately ever-dwindling fortunes of the oldest political party, BPP, Matante has left a legacy that shall forever remain indelible in the hearts and minds of many.
He was one of the founding fathers who advocated for better living for Batswana and in particular he advocated for equality of access to land in a town that was then dominated by the whites that had even barred the blacks from accessing some of the areas in the town.
Matante was therefore, an advocate of the people at a time when the poor masses even thought that unemployment and poor services provision by the government were God’s plan. He was amongst the party founders who stuck to their belief that the BPP was the vanguard of the revolutionary. In Parliament he fought amongst others against white domination or racism and equal opportunities for all. He will forever be remembered for the demonstrations that he led in Francistown, Lobatse and Palapye against racism practices.
Matante was a main player in Francistown politics whilst on the other hand he was a national player who never went unnoticed giving the ruling party torrid time in both Parliament and freedom square politics.
It was Balopi who took over in 1979 although he tended to defend the policies of the ruling BDP, his tenure cannot be ignored. He served at a time when Francistown was transforming from a town to a city. The then town of Francistown was still struggling with unemployment before the resurgence of mines around Francistown.
For a town that depended chiefly on commerce activity for its survival without the requisite manufacturing industries, Balopi was the area MP at a time when the town struggled before it pegged its survival on the mines without a post-mining plan.
During his tenure, the BDP government was seemingly concerned with protecting its government than providing requisite services to the people.
When Joy Phumaphi took over from Balopi, as the MP for Francistown East, she promised to bring changes to the development of the city. Phumaphi’s politics was a bit different from her predecessor’s in that she tended to call spade a spade.
Having served in the civil service as an auditor, Phumaphi deviated from politics of empty promises and dwelt on issues she was certain her government could deliver. It seems the BDP government has a tendency of keeping people waiting for developments through its “pipeline” tendencies and this seemed to frustrate politicians of Phumaphi’s calibre who became one of the notable ministers of health during her tenure.
Phumaphi believed in delivering and was not content with the government’s red tape. She was a true representative of the people and her case inspired other womenfolk to take politics seriously as she enjoyed respect across the political divide.
Another former area MP, Phandu Skelemani took over from Phumaphi in 2003 until 2014 when he lost to Buti Billy the incumbent area MP.
Skelemani, who is an attorney by training, played his part in advocating for the city’s developments. But, politics being an elected office, he was ousted by his protégé Billy at the party’s primaries in 2014. Billy would emerge victorious at the general elections.
Whilst employment continues to elude the government of the ruling BDP here, Billy’s tenure was favoured with the construction of an interchange popularly known as Spaghetti, which has given the city a major facelift.
The interchange has simplified the lives of taxi operators and other road users, leaving the city roads accessible and convenient.
Francistown politics was at its best in 1994 when the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) nearly prised the city from the red talons of the ruling BDP. Then a town, Francistown was demarcated into two constituencies - Francistown East and West.
During that year’s general elections, all eyes were in Francistown East where Balopi represented the BDP, the late Peter Woto represented the BNF and BPP represented by the late Dr Knight Maripe.
Woto, who was a latecomer after the late withdrawal of Raphael Sikwane, gave Balopi a run for his money with the BDP winning with a very slim margin.
This was indeed the BNF year although the gods did not smile purely upon them. It was however, a different ball game altogether in the newly established Francistown West, where Vain Mamela was a very hot political item. That elections year,
It has always been clear that the BNF will win this one and true to that mood, Mamela went to Parliament albeit for just one term as in 1999, the late Tshelang Masisi ousted Mamela in one of the highly emotional contests.
Mamela had crossed the floor to the newly formed Botswana Congress Party (BCP), which was formed as a breakaway party from the BNF.
In a nutshell, Mamela has been trying his luck to win a parliamentary seat since the advent of his loss in 1999. He would later relocate to the Francistown South constituency until recently when he paved way to the incumbent MP, Wynter Mmolotsi another political survivor who has managed to beat the odds to remain in Parliament.
Mmolotsi, an indefatigable political fighter, will have a test of his life this time around as he will be contesting under the ticket of his new party, Alliance for Progressives (AP). He has won the seat under the BDP before he defected to the BMD and won it once under his former opposition party.
He is one of the organised politicians in the city and will have to prove to all and sundry that his win under the BMD ticket was not by any fluke.
Mamela and his team had expressed a desire to contest in Francistown West, but unfortunately another mountain has emerged making it difficult for him to get his wish.
The BCP has entered into a political trade exchange with the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in favour of the former contesting in Maun West, which leaves Mamela without a constituency. Reports show that the BCP leadership has offered him a ward to contest in. By his stature, Mamela has outgrown ward politics. He is a politician who can cut his opponents to the right size and sell the party’s policies very well.
In the Francistown East, there is another reputable politician who has kept the BDP on its toes, attorney-cum-politician, Morgan Moseki. From a by-election that introduced Skelemani to BDP parliamentary politics in 2003, Moseki has been giving the BDP torrid time although he has been unfortunate to win seat that he deserved.
He has been reducing the margin between the two parties to the extent that the BCP has been a threat to the BDP.
Although the last election results may not be accurate to depict the real difference, for argument sake Billy garnered 3,818 votes whilst Moseki got 3,573 leaving a margin between the two at 245 votes. Apparently, the political war between Moseki and the BDP candidates will only end with Moseki in Parliament.
Another mover and shaker in Francistown politics for a long time now is the BPP president, Motlatsi Molapise who is 74 years now. He was one of the longest serving councillors in the city having been a councillor for 25 years. At some stage when the BPP was in control of the FCC, Molapise was the city mayor.
Molapise unfortunately saw the BPP fortunes dwindling under his stewardship with the party forced to retreat to the northeast as a regional party with poor structures or nothing across the country.
Former city mayor Peter Ngoma who is amongst politicians who had defected from the BPP, one of them being MP Billy, has been quiet since he was nominated to the FCC in 2014.
Safe to say, his hand has been visible in the councillors’ attempt to topple city mayor Sylvia Muzila, Ngoma has not been as active as he used to be.
He once made an attempt at ousting the late Masisi in the Francistown West and lost bitterly before he retreated to the Tati West constituency where his voice faded into oblivion.
On a good day, Ngoma is a politician who plays to the gallery and has a habit of assassinating the character of his competition. He could probably be plotting his comeback.
Now, the recent emergence of a youthful politician in the likes of Modiri Lucas in the Francistown South constituency has shocked many with Lucas’ critics wondering if serious politicians have all abandoned politics.
Lucas beat his more fancied competition at the party’s primaries in January. Can Lucas add value to the city politics?
Another maverick politician, Ignatius Moswaane of the BDP has proved that individual brilliance can work for him as a BDP politician. Unfortunately, that could run out of steam and leave him vulnerable in future internal and national elections.
He has a way of doing things for his political survival.
When he was denied an opportunity to stand under the BDP ticket in the past, he stood as an independent council candidate and won before he rejoined the BDP. He is yet to face a stern test. Moswaane’s strength is attributable to his love for the hoi polloi.