BPF starts slow

Ex-BDP members throwing away their membership cards PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Ex-BDP members throwing away their membership cards PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

About a month ago, when former president Ian Khama announced that he was quitting the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), a party founded by his father, there was euphoria in Serowe followed by promises from the masses that had thronged the tribal meeting that Bangwato will decamp in large numbers to join the new-kid-on-the-political-block, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).  In this article, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE makes observations that contrary to earlier promises that the new party will hit the ground running and tear the BDP apart, the BPF has generally been off to a slow start

FRANCISTOWN: It’s a given that things have not been rosy for the convener of the BPF, legislator Biggie Butale and other interim leaders of the new political organisation.

Reports show that even for the registration process, the Registrar of Societies had thrown the convener and other leaders of the new party from pillar to post for them to fulfil certain pre-requisites.

As if that was not enough, the BPF has this week being further thrown from pillar to post by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the process of officially registering its logo and colours.

The BPF has been crying foul that the IEC was being used to delay their launch pencilled for Kanye on July 6, 2019.

Whilst the registration processes are key to the existence of any political organisation, people have been watching with keen interest if the pledges of Bangwato to bring the BDP to its knees in the vast GammaNgwato territory with about 19 constituencies will come to materialise.

As it stands, the new party has no numbers to brag about its strength, as politics is a game of numbers. It seems the party’s membership drive will only commence in earnest after it has fulfilled the IEC demands. It is unfortunate that time is not on the party’s side as even the beleaguered BDP has promised to put up a brave fight to retain its numbers in the CDC.

The picture has not been helped by small numbers of defections that have been circulated in the social media including at the Central District Council (CDC) where massive resignations were expected. At best, the defections present the BPF as a struggling party.

From the last general elections, the BDP across the 19 constituencies in GammaNgwato territory garnered about 114,256 votes.

Taking into account the number of people that have registered for the 2019 elections, the numbers might appear small or big. What is important though is that the BDP has set a tone of numbers by leaving the ball in the BPF court to prove itself.

Already there are reports that the BPF is gripped by a power struggle within its ranks with the seemingly dominant GammaNgwato demanding that the leadership should come from its territory whilst others want to give the party the requisite national appeal by drawing leadership from across the country.

Although processes at the BPF are seemingly moving at a slow pace with the euphoria that characterised the forming of the party some what waning, the interim national organising secretary, Ford Moiteela sees the processes otherwise.

To the former BDP councillor and party operative, things are going at a faster pace at the BPF and have blamed the government to be punishing them as it is making the registration processes very tedious and slow.

In his view, it is the IEC that is deliberately delaying processes as this week they are stuck with the BPF logo and colours.

Whilst the BPF is predominantly a CDC-based party, Moiteela’s explanation is that the plan is to give the BPF a national appeal rather than limiting it to within the boundaries of the Central District and leaving it with a tribal outlook. Moiteela spoke with confidence that it is only a matter of time before some of the BDP parliamentary and council candidates dumped the party to take their rightful places at the BPF. “Just a matter of time.  Watch the space and see how the new kid on the political block proves its mettle,” Moiteela insisted.

“The party leadership also will not necessarily come from GammaNgwato as anyone eligible to be elected into the party leadership will certainly be given a chance. At the party’s inaugural meeting in Kanye, that is where the party leadership will be duly unveiled to the masses.

The BPF is yet to make public its strength in terms of registered numbers, but Moiteela is taking it easy indicating that it is a matter that is not giving them headache at all.

“The numbers are there, just wait for the right moment and see what the BPF has in store.

We are bigger than what a lot of people imagine we are,” the elated Moiteela revealed.

Legislator Butale, BPF convener is quoted by a local publication claiming that over 10,000 people are expected at the inaugural meeting in Kanye.

University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao is adamant that the BPF cannot unseat the ruling BDP.

“Thus far, its policy and ideological framework are unknown.  It’s also not a national party as it exists only in one part of the country,” Lotshwao dismisses the newly formed BPF.

To him, the BPF looks like a party formed by people with grievances, hoping to use that to force the BDP leadership to negotiate with them.

Unfortunately, the UB academic says that because they are a very small minority in the party that has not worked.

He posits that the fact that the former president, who is a leading figure behind the formation of the BPF and Bangwato Kgosikgolo, “doesn’t mean that all Bangwato will decamp to the new party”.

Lotshwao distinguishes that Bangwato are loyal to Khama as their kgosikgolo, the same way that a majority of them are loyal to the ruling BDP as their party of choice.

“It should be remembered that when Kgosi Bathoen II joined the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF), not every member of his tribe joined the BNF,” he observes further highlighting that the same is true with Kgosi Tawana, Kgosi Lotlaamoreng and others.

As for the struggle of leadership positions that have ensued within the newly formed BPF with the dominant people from GammaNgwato demanding to have the top leadership from CDC and others from elsewhere, Lotshwao considers it to be a normal thing within politics.

He emphasises: “The struggle for leadership positions is a normal process in political organisations.  However, it’s worrying if some believe the new party should be led by someone from the Central District”.

To him, this would be another clear sign that the BPF is not a national party, but instead a regional party-cum-tribal pressure group.

UB lecturer in political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi describes Khama as a strategist stating that as a former military commander, he has accumulated a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare to deal with the situation of forming and running the BPF.

“He has outfoxed the BDP and its President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The BPF has disabled the BDP structures in the northern part of the country,” observes Mfundisi further remarking that the BDP is in disarray in the CDC.

In his view, defections are mounting and it’s the BPF strategy to manage defections in such a way that it is a continuation of instability within the BDP.

“The BDP in the CDC is history. The new party is a game changer and Khama does not only appeal to the CDC constituencies but countrywide. Wait for its (BPF) inauguration in the heartland of Southern Botswana, Kanye.”

Mfundisi indicated that Bakgatla in Moshupa never supported Bathoen II as a BNF president and wondered if Bangwaketse will do the opposite and support a native of Moshupa, Masisi.

“There are uncertainties in the BDP as to who is still loyal to the party and this will further erode its confidence and mount a serious challenge to the throne. BDP rallies are poorly attended, a barometer for its lack of appeal to voters.”

As for the perceived rift within the BPF, Mfundisi calls that propaganda perpetrated by its enemies. Despite observations that the Khama magic has long waned, Mfundisi insists that the impact of Khama on the political landscape is amazing.

 He credits the former president for ripping the BDP apart and their counter measures are not working but popularising the BPF, the party he views as a game changer.

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