With the nation going to the polls this week, we take a pause in our coverage of Batswana in World War II to look at the dynamics of our first national election, held in March 1965.
At the beginning of 1964, the colonial administration announced that the Protectorate’s first non-racial one-person one-vote elections would be held in March 1965; maintaining that a full year was required to count and register the population.
It also mounted an information campaign to explain to the people the new electoral system. The nationalist parties thus became locked into a year-long struggle for political supremacy.
From the beginning, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) successfully engaged in campaigning throughout most of the territory. As part of this effort, in 1964 the party introduced a newspaper, Therisanyo, which was published on a monthly basis until 1967.
The periodical was edited and largely written by Quett Masire, who would later maintain that it aided the party in popularising its basic programme amongst the literate and its electoral symbol amongst the illiterate.
The BDP national executive also devoted a great deal of energy in addressing meetings in all corners of the Protectorate. In a single month of February 1964, the Party held 60 rallies, even though 11 others were abandoned because Seretse Khama fell ill at the time.
Masire travelled over 5,000 kilometres between the 7th and the 23rd of that month across some of the remotest corners of the Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, and western Kweneng districts to address 24 inaugural meetings.
In the process he recruited future parliamentarians Eyes Rekoeng, Boy Moapare, and N.S. Sekga into the BDP fold. All three were elected in 1965 unopposed.
It was also on this trip that Masire contacted David Keatlaretse of Maun, who went on to join others in organising the BDP in Ngamiland.
Meanwhile Amos Dambe held 20 meetings in Bobirwa and Bukalanga, helping to consolidate the Domkrag in the rural northeast, while Archelaus Tsoebebe held another 16 meetings in Kgatleng, eastern Kweneng and southern Gammangwato.
For its part the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) continued to suffer from factionalism. While Motsamai Mpho’s followers rebranded themselves as the Botswana Independence Party (BIP), the remaining BPP were once more divided when longstanding tensions between G.G. Matante and K.T. Motsete came to the surface.
The quarrel began over tactics. In the run up to the constitutional conference Matante had advocated a campaign of civil disorder, while Motsete wanted to steer a more moderate course.
In November 12, 1964 an incident in Francistown finally drove the two apart. A protest against a law licensing the brewing of traditional beer was staged inside the Tatitown beer hall, which was led by shebeen women (who were also protesting against the Tati Company’s monopoly of legal
When the women refused to leave the police arrested 45, charging them with trespassing. On the following day members of the BPP Youth League in Francistown demonstrated outside the beer hall against the arrests.
When the police arrived, the youths hurled stones and several petrol bombs, which failed to ignite.
The police responded with teargas and truncheons, arresting 103. Thereafter, Matante through his support behind the demonstrators, speaking out against police repression. Amongst township residents he was the man of the hour.
Pushed aside, Motsete tried to form a new alliance with Mpho, who was no longer willing to share power. With a few followers, Motsete claimed to lead yet a third faction of the BPP but by the time of the 1965 election he had faded into virtual insignificance.
With elections approaching, the campaigns of the parties continued to stand in sharp contrast. The BDP were well prepared by the day of the poll with candidates and organised supporters in every one of the then 31 constituencies.
The other parties struggled to nominate candidates in the rural areas and in many places failed. A belated attempt to forge an election pact between the BPP and BIP to shore up their flagging support came to nothing.
In 1964-65 organisation, rather than finance, accounted for the differences between the parties. The BPP (Matante), BDP and BIP each had sources of internal and external support, with the first two at least being relatively well financed in the months leading up to the election.
Indeed, the executive members of each of the parties travelled widely. Seretse visited the United States, Europe and countries throughout Africa. Matante and Mpho visited Socialist bloc countries in Europe and Asia, as well as many African states.
In the final weeks of the campaign, activity was concentrated in the south-east, which appeared to contain the most marginal constituencies.
The BDP was unassailable in Gammangwato, the BPP had consolidated its stronghold in Francistown, with the BIP were hopeful (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) in Ngamiland. Government officials, who watched the contest with interest, predicted that the BDP would take 24 seats.
When the results did come in, the BDP won by a landslide, capturing 28 seats, with the remaining three going to Matante’s BPP.
Of the 140,286 votes counted, the BDP received 113,165 or 80.6% followed by BPP (Matante) with 19,964 or 14.3% and BIP with 5,991 or 4.3 percent. Motsete received a mere 377 votes in Lobatse, while other independents garnered 789 votes.