Yesterday the BDP celebrated 57 years amidst little fanfare. So consumed is the party in its internal wrangling that the significance of the milestone flew past unnoticed. All eyes are on the calm before the tsunami.
The depth of visceral hatred enveloping the once mighty BDP is as palpable as the date of the epic battle between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and challenger Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.
The war of attrition pits a buoyed CAVA faction – which currently pulls the levers of power from Tsholetsa – and a somewhat emboldened New Jersualem (NJ) backing Venson-Moitoi. Foot soldiers, their bile full of anger, hurl profanities with each jibe thrown by their leaders.
NJ empathises with former President Ian Khama, in the belief that many events since his departure have been a step too far in humiliating him and his allies. The rift between predecessor and handpicked successor is a sore left to fester, threatening the stability and integrity of the force that Sirs Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire built. Senior figures in Parliament and within the party who feel brushed aside by the new administration have lent their weight silently to New Jerusalem.
The composition of the current warring factions is a far cry from traditional Barata Phathi versus A-Team or the Big Five vs Big Two. In the BDP of past, so steadfast was factional arrangement with loyalty regarded as the highest virtue. Loyalty is a scarce commodity today, traded mercilessly for buyability.
Thursday 28th February 2019 made history as the BDP celebrated being the longest single ruling party in a multi-party democratic dispensation still in power after 52 years. The Worker’s Party of Korea boasts the record of longest serving party in the world. Since 1948, WPK has ruled North Korea as a sole governing party with two legal parties completely subservient to it. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) comes second to neighbours Korea having being in power since 1949 and equally as sole governing party.
This milestone, forgotten to a leadership embroiled in a fight of survival on many fronts, also takes the BDP to the forefront as the most enduring dominant party on the continent. Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi, a merger of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP), is a distant second with 42 years at the helm of the East African state since 1977.
But no political party can rule forever.
Current cleavages are a continuation of party busy digging its own grave. Leading to the 2004 elections, the BDP had successfully instilled a mechanism of working together to victory. With a record written in accomplishments dating to the years of independence, the force led by Festus Mogae delivered on confidence desired by multitudes. What was supposed to be an easier passage to victory in 2009 was undone by a party at war with itself.
The implosion of 2010 remains an unmitigated disaster and a watershed moment in the history of the BDP. Toxicity beginning around May 2009 resulted in Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi suspended and recalled as Gaborone Central candidate by Khama. The poisonous environment would be the perfect recipe for the electoral backlash of 2014.
The ruling party embarked on a campaign with a President heavily discredited for alleged authoritarian rule and an ineffective Secretary General, a discontented electorate and super intense excitement amongst opposition activists. The outcome – the worst performance in the history of the BDP with introspection a taboo. The greatest losses of 2014 were in constituencies contested by Motswaledi sympathisers within and without the BDP with most winners from opposition fibred in BDP DNA. The trauma of the BDP split remains overwhelmingly a tragedy whose impact has never been fully understood.
Party splits are an outcome of fierce competition between a dissenting faction and a dominant faction in a symbiotic relationship with party leadership. History shows two distinct stages: dissent and the intra-party conflict. Internal factors shaping conflict are disagreements on organisational conduct and or policy and exercise of relative power. External factors extend to the cost and perceived viability of forming a new party.
Internal factors have proven more influential over party splits. When those aggrieved are unable to voice their displeasure within party platforms, they simply act by giving their vote – and in most instances away. The split that followed the Polokwane conference of 2007 has since seen the ANC’s hold on four of the nine provinces threatened. The last municipal elections saw the ANC cede Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metros to opposition.
President Masisi faces swelling ranks of a membership so unhappy with the new and prevailing culture. Never in the history of the BDP has an administration poured scorn on its predecessor. The displeasure coming from an unprecedented number of protests from Bulela Ditswe points to a party that has thrown its Constitution and Code of Conduct out the window. The Secretary General is once again fingered as the key architect in these inconsistencies of favouritism bordering on cronyism.
Mogoditshane is still to settle on a parliamentary candidate. Protests continue to be ignored. Party die-hards claim Chilliboy Rakgare’s somewhat mysteriously appeared on the voter’s roll in time to contest. Tshephang Mabaila’s supporters allege Rakgare’s name could not have been in the roll as Rakgare was an opposition member when Bulela Ditswe was first held. Mabaila’s followers attribute the dismissal of their candidate as means to pave way for Rakgare when only a stern warning could have been sufficient to instil discipline. Kweneng East and West Regions argue why Rakgare was waivered to contest while Kabo Sebele in Molepolole North was denied bluntly.
The departure from constitutionalism is further exacerbated by what is perceived as personalised interpretation to suit those in charge of the party. The assumption that regionalised block voting exists in the BDP has angered many. The general membership is also riled by incentivising appointments to subcommittees to recruits.
Recruits and young upstarts fuel the divide further by other means. The 2017 BDP Congress in Tonota was career building for President Masisi’s supporters and career limiting for losers. Kang offers state careers and political death for losers. The recruits and young pretenders, by virtue of not having been there to nurse a death bed-ridden BDP during the aftermath of the split and mother of all strikes, have no experience of the difficulty of living in a broken party in need of pacification to mend.
The road to Kang is emblematic of how poorly leaders of warring factions have failed to rise beyond petty skirmishes with the 2019 general elections in mind.
The BDP membership is so disillusioned by the infighting of personal politics instead of politics of people’s interests. The BDP of past solved crises with consideration to the interest of the nation first.
Victory is not certain for either in Kang. If the BDP splits again, there will be no winners. An opportunity lies at the negotiating table – an inclusive peace accord detailing a survival roadmap for country and party.
Maybe, this could be the end. No one can stop the hour whose time has come.
Political hardheads and novices will no doubt claim these musings are the stuff of disillusion. Maybe, but do remember this – no political party lasts forever after the split.