During a recent trip, I let my mind drift away from the spectacular Shoshong Hills and the historical ruins of Old Palapye to ponder the modern ruins of the politics of the Central District.
What, I asked myself, do politics of Ga Mmangwato – or the influence of Bogosi in politics – have to do with the concerns of the political landscape of Botswana?
Under normal circumstances probably nothing, but escort bayan then, we are not in normal circumstances.
Some 15 years ago the Botswana National Front () unleashed a young Mephato Reatile against Michael Tshipinare of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Tshipinare had been winning elections since 1979 when the constituency was Kgalagadi. The genesis of Jwaneng-Mabutsane can be traced to 1965 when it was Ngwaketse and Kgalagadi. In 1969 Bangwaketse royal Kgosi Bathoen Gaseitsiwe became Kanye’s Member of Parliament with Ngwaketse and Kgalagadi represented by Patrick Tshane.
Rumour has it that the Bangwaketse paramount did not mount fierce campaigns in the peripheries of his territories limiting his excursions to asking his subjects who the owner of the soil was. MPs Sidwell Gabatshwane, Leach Tlhomelang, Omphitlhetse Maswabi and Abram Kesupile are some beneficiaries of a royal political footprint that extends to Ngwaketse West.
Kgosi Bathoen Gaseitswe’s influence in opposition translated his territorial influence into a political fortress. For three consecutive general elections, Bathoen won the hearts of many whilst in opposition, with founding BDP leader Sir Serestse Khama’s presence delivering multiple victories in the north of Botswana and primarily in Bamangwato territories.
But those were normal circumstances.
Michael Tshipinare was aided by a cosmopolitan Jwaneng before Reatile’s victory in 2004. Interestingly, in 2004 there would be two other BNF candidates also from Jwaneng but sent into the heartland of another royal. Moses Muzila would eventually lose Serowe South to Pelonomi Venson. But the intrigue lay in Serowe North West. Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama would be unopposed following the pressure from the family of Kagiso Wale decrying the embarrassment they would suffer should Wale face their paramount chief at the polls.
The influence of Bogosi in politics can never be underestimated.
The BDP saving’s bank lies in the Bamangwato heartland. Only one of the 19 constituencies in Kgosi Kgolo Khama IV’s territory lies in opposition hands. In case you have not been keeping up, the same sort of groundswell that gave us Khama in 1998 is still producing political realities that are unprecedented, unforeseen and this time around anti-establishment.
The Central District will never be the same.
The ‘crisis in CDC’ deepened midweek as 10 Councillors resigned from the BDP. The letters cover a geographic spread from Mahalapye East, Mahalapye West, Serowe West and Serowe North. Indications are that there are councillors in Shoshong, Boteti West and Francistown West that have already ditched the BDP for the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).
A question mark hangs over which MPs will jump ship. What is without doubt is the sizeable number of Khama sympathisers lying in wait, watching events unfold. Media reports suggest a number of MPs aligned to Khama nearing 10. The strangest are those outside the Gammangwato territory. The bogus charges and subsequent suspension of Prince Maele and the resignations shaking the BDP bedrock are a subplot in this seismic shift.
A month ago, Khama announced his departure from the BDP – itself an embodiment of ‘the establishment’. That is the main plot. Is it beyond the realms of possibilities that for the first time ever, the heartland of the BDP may change hands? Should that earthquake happen, then everything will be possible in October, especially for an opposition that is within striking distance of governance.
On one day at a symposium on the Influence of Bogosi on Politics, Klaas Motshidisi would regale a tale of the sheer misfortune of daring to challenge a crown prince in the political battle field. The setting was 1965, at the first ever election scheduled for Serowe North. Crowds from Ramasololo and Goo Tshosa Ward converged with those of Matshotha and Tshisi and Tshipana in what is traditionally known as ‘Ko Letamong’ or Serowe Dam.
As the story goes, Seretse Khama would ask if anyone in the crowd knew his challenger. Honourable Daniel Keatametse Kwelagobe says an elderly woman answered, ‘Mong’ ame, we do not know this person’. The elderly woman was Klaas Motshidisi’s mother. From 1965, the Bamangwato territory remained impenetrable to opposition until Honourable Gilson Saleshando’s victory in 1994 only to lose it to Daisy Pholo in 1999.
BDP apologists in the media are not keen to report on the cleavages, the creation of new political actors and the platforms of mobilisation taking place across the Gammangwato territory. The myth primarily peddled by the apologists that the BDP is unshaken does not stand on its two lame feet as Mmadinare and Boteti East lead the charge of mobilisers who have taken to shedding the red, black and white of the BDP, ditching party regalia and membership cards. The two Phikwe constituencies have sought audience with Kgosikgolo, all in attempt to get direction on how to vote.
The story is simple. In the two consultative meetings held in Serowe in May 2019 attendants from different parts of the territory bemoans different forms of depravation that their paramount chief suffers. For them President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s time is up. A section of opposition leaders in the UDC have laid out a scheme to force BDP out of the BDP heartland. Khama is not a tribal leader they say – but a national leader with a huge following throughout the country. For the UDC – that is bankable currency.
Had the BDP cared to look in the direction of Khama’s territory, they would have noticed the resounding roar of approval from his traditional vote basket especially in Mmea, Makgaba, Mosu and Mukubilo. It is voters who decide the fate of politicians, not political foes!
But what is this tendency where most leaders only cite misgivings about Khama only after they have fallen out with him? As long as they were benefiting from their association with Khama, he was an angel, but he becomes the devil when they get disadvantaged one way or the other.
Pity is: some people never learn from history. North of Malaka in Tswapong lies what is today named ‘Old Palapye’. In 1889 Kgosi Khama III led Bangwato from Shoshong in search of abundance of water. Phalatswe on the north side of the Tswapong Hills was ecologically attractive because of waterfalls of Phothophotho. It had possibilities for fruit and tobacco farming as well as for extensive cultivation, grazing, and hunting. The city thrived for western traders for a little more than a decade. The reason advanced for the 1902 abandonment of Phalatswe in favour of Serowe is ‘the inevitable consequence of a cycle of ecological depletion’.
Bamangwato territory is filled with Motshidisi and Wale – people who will never ditch their tribal leader. Today Khama IV leads another exodus – possibly the road to perdition signalling perhaps the full cycle of political depletion of the BDP. The litmus test will be the potential change of hands of CDC. Should that happen before October, then the 2019 general elections will be everyone’s game.
The Central District will never be the same.