Longtime hangers-on of former president Ian Khama, mostly ex-soldiers and the immediate royal families, who had great influence in the past administration are backing Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi against president Mokgweetsi Masisi, Mmegi Staffer THALEFANG CHARLES reports
A brigade of retired Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldiers who are now successful businessmen, mostly from the Central District, have deployed their resources behind Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidential bid, Mmegi has learnt. Most of these ex-soldiers quit the army to start businesses and their companies have flourished under Ian Khama’s tenure.
A number of these former military men are running profitable security companies and have made their fortune through government tenders and lucrative arms deals for various state security agencies.
According to multiple sources from Serowe, word is out throughout the village that Venson-Moitoi, Member of Parliament for Serowe South, should be assisted in her bid to topple President Mokgweetsi Masisi from the ruling party’s presidency. Venson-Moitoi bit the bullet last month and transgressed against BDP old tradition by publicly announcing her intention to challenge the President for Domkrag’s top post.
In December 18, 2018 Venson-Moitoi wrote through her social media pages, “I informed, in writing to the BDP and HE the President, that I intend to contest the position of president of BDP at the next elective congress. I believe that in true democratic fashion my campaign will be one that debates issues constructively. Always putting the party first and the lives of all Batswana at the very core of our debates”. She was swiftly sacked from Cabinet the following day on December 19.
Venson-Moitoi was appointed by President Masisi at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to succeed Slumber Tsogwane who was elevated to the vice presidency in April 2018.
Tsogwane’s appointment is said to have left a few ‘heartbroken’ members inside the Masisi Cabinet who felt they were more competent to be Number Two.
The two ministers from Serowe constituencies, Venson-Moitoi and Tshekedi Khama from Serowe South and West respectively, were considered frontrunners to succeed Masisi as Vice President. Now the ‘Third Force’, which comprises mainly of non-active politicians are using the disgruntled BDP members, especially Bulela Ditswe bitter losers to push for their agenda within the ruling party.
One of the key members within the Third Force, who spoke to Mmegi on condition of anonymity, said they have consulted with former president Khama about their support for Venson-Moitoi and he has given them the nod.
Khama has already declared his support for Venson-Moitoi saying, “Democracy should be allowed to take its course”.
“We have strategists who report and consult with the former HE on the campaign [for Venson-Moitoi]. We are almost finished with Serowe and are now spreading throughout the country identifying BDP members who are with us,” said one key Third Force member.
The Third Force is currently busy mobilising their old squadrons around the country to support Venson-Moitoi.
Responding to why they decided to put their resources into party politics and whether they realise that their actions could destroy the ruling party, one ex-army man from Serowe said, “It is an issue of loyalty. Loyalty is very important. We are loyal [to Khama], and we cannot ditch him now”.
He further said that Khama has assured them that he would not be quitting the BDP despite soured relations with Masisi.
Some of Venson-Moitoi’s supporters are long time hangers-on of Khama and the immediate royal families who had great influence in the past administration, but are now seemingly suffering from a bad power hangover since their ‘Mong-wame’ left the Office of the President.
They are a pompous clique that is always ready to announce their tribal status and are unabashed to display their highest degree of loyalty to the former president.
Interestingly, these Khama loyalists have succeeded in spreading a chilling propaganda throughout Serowe. The propaganda machine is making Khama appear like an innocent victim who is being badly mistreated by his successor, Masisi. Many village folks have caught up on the propaganda saying, “Masisi o tshwenya Iyene” (Masisi is ill-treating Ian). And many amongst these are very conservative old folk who highly place and value bogosi.
They are now upset because their Kgosikgolo is being mistreated after working so hard for the country. In Serowe many do not understand the bone of contention in the conflict between Masisi and Khama. Most of the elderly Bangwato believe that Khama should not be hindered from using state resources.
Khama is still viewed as an extra-ordinary king who should not be taken as an ordinary pensioner like others. The former president commands a devoted following in Serowe similar to new age fire churches’ pastors.
“Masisi nkabo a leteletse Khama go palama dihohane tseo, akere ba dumalane,” said one middle-aged man at Serowe Kgotla during Khama’s Christmas lunch.
Ironically, it was Venson-Moitoi who stood in defence of President Masisi during that fateful October 18, 2018 Serowe kgotla meeting when some tribesmen demanded to know what was happening between the President and his predecessor. Venson-Moitoi did not pick up the phone when reached for comment several times this week.