In 1991 Vice President Peter Mmusi recommended a commission of inquiry on Land Boards. The findings formed a recipe for a crisis putting the BDP in perilous times.
The Kgabo Commission found Mmusi erred morally in upholding Secretary General Daniel Kwelagobe’s appeal for a piece of land in Nkoyaphiri. Both were not guilty of stealing any land.
On March 7, 1992, Kwelagobe appended his ministerial response to the budget speech with a resignation from Cabinet. Mmusi followed. Trouble had come, a solution to the dynamic much needed. On March 9, 1992 Festus Mogae was installed as Vice President (VP).
On display – Sir Ketumile Masire’s philosophy on succession planning and averting periods of uncertainty.
The transfer of power to Masire upon the tragic death of Sir Seretse Khama in July 1980 drew inspiration from an airport hangar in Dallas, Texas. Two hours after the assassination of John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One. Kennedy’s unexpected death influenced a bench depth of a party in its teens of governance.
For decades, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) would benefit from smooth successions amidst considerations of political power. When Lenyeletse Seretse passed away in January 1983, Mmusi was appointed VP. The test of stability would come when VP Mmusi lost a re-run of Gaborone South in 1984.
Track record; performance in youth structures and critically time spent in the organisation were factors for consideration when choosing leaders. The 1977 congress in Mochudi formalised a leadership incubator. The prevailing theme – kgomo tse di senang morole ga di ate. Translated loosely, a herd of cows without calves doesn’t flourish.
This was the architecture of leadership succession in a democratic state.
An interim youth committee led by Pelokgale Seloma, Gaotlahetse ‘GUS’ Matlhabaphiri, Pono Moatlhodi amongst others launched in Serowe in 1978. Other names touted were of Michael Tshipinare, Johnny Swartz and Lesedi Mothibamele. A 24-year-old Botlogile Tshireletso traversed the heartland Dovedale and Mmaphashala through the Tropic of Capricorn canvassing a following for the BDP.
Seretse and Masire empowered the youth brigade to contest the 1979 general elections in quantum. Chambers across the country filled with the likes of Lesego Raditanka, Roy Blackbeard and Boikhutso Matekane. David Magang won Kweneng East. Matlhabaphiri would enter Parliament on the special nomination ticket in 1979. GUS earned another nomination in 1984 only to rescind his seat. Mmusi’s marginal victory in Gaborone South was short-lived as the discovery of a sealed ballot box necessitated a re-run. BNF leader Dr Kenneth Koma won. Needing a constituency for the VP, GUS became the sacrificial lamb.
The BDP like most independence parties lacked bureaucratic depth and policy finesse. To bridge the gap, leaders tapped from the civil service. Masire just like his predecessor leveraged on the specially elected ticket. Others joined voluntarily like Ponatshego Kedikilwe who went on to win Mmadinare.
Masire dipped into a civil service in 1989, drawing on the atlantic grasp of economics that Mogae possessed. Also making the cut was founding army general Mompati Merafhe. Within intra-party shenanigans, Mmusi forged a strong bond with Kwelagobe thus earning the name of the Big 2. The opposing camp, the Big 5, were Merafhe, Chapson Butale, Magang, Roy Blackbeard and Bahiti Temane. All of sudden, Masire’s succession planning looked at risk of being overtaken by factional interests.
As factions battled for supremacy, VP Mogae laid low polling the highest votes for additional member position in the 1993 Kanye congress.
Mmusi returned as Chairman with Kwelagobe his SG. Sadly Mmusi passed away a few days before the 1994 elections leaving an embattled Kwelagobe and Masire to resurrect the fortunes of a party in disarray. The BNF garnered 13 of 40 seats. Mogae now an elected legislator represented Palapye.
Whether by accident or design, factional rivalry became a defining feature signalling a new BDP. The factions engaged in another bout this time in Mogoditshane. Kwelagobe roped in Kedikilwe as his ally. The Kwelagobe-Kedikilwe faction swept to victory with Kedikiwe elected Party chairperson. Once again Mogae laid low – polling the highest additional member vote.
The challenge to engineer Mogae’s succession was aided unintentionally by Young Turks in Kabo Morwaeng, Jacob Nkate and Sidney Pilane in 1995. Nkate, Kabelo Masilo, Segaetsho Garekwe and Gilbert Mangole are pioneers of an underground movement of University of Botswana students who gravitated towards the ruling party. When this structure was eventually solemnised it became Gaborone South Cell 26 – commonly known as GS-26. Three distinct groupings emerged from UB to make a significant mark in frontline politics.
Supported by GUS, the GS-26 crop of Nixon Marumoloa, Gomolemo Motswaledi, Biggie Butale were roped into subcommittees of the Central Committee and NYEC. A young Botsalo Ntuane was nominated by Masire into the Central Committee. Bernard Bolele chaired PEEC with Motswaledi deployed to the Culture and Publicity subcommittee. The leadership pipeline for the GS-26 routed through NYEC and onwards to political office. Lesang Magang and Kentse Rammidi returned from studies in the United Kingdom and United States of America respectively to join the Young Turks making waves in BDP politics.
Masire’s second nursery had capacitated a second generation of leaders counted amongst the intelligentsia of the BDP. Although initially reluctant, Masire would embrace constitutional reforms proposing limiting the presidency to two five year terms. A further amendment of the Constitution of Botswana saw the VP automatically succeed the President. In pursuit of stable transitions Masire had played his card.
On April 1, 1998, Mogae was sworn in as President. Retiring general Ian Khama became VP, a move to contain unabated factionalism. The BDP had in place a President and a succeeding VP.
Mogae’s presidency was served by the infrastructure built by predecessor. Masire was oriented on political activism. Mogae’s emphasis were on the running of a bureaucratic state. As the youth of 78 and graduates of GS 26 converged, 10 years sailed by quickly. Life was not however rosy! Factional interests simmered. The BDP was on a collision course.
Ian Khama named first Merafhe and then Kedikilwe as transitional VPs. Merafhe introduced a strict adherence to militarised order with the leader having in concurrence a first and final word. Theirs was an approach that supposedly chose efficiency over political expediency. The bedrock that was built on consultation started to crumble.
Hindsight showed a group empowered on collective decisiveness at loggerheads with authoritarianism. Ideology and factional strands shifted from values professed by Seretse and Masire. In a brutal fight the soul of the BDP was torn asunder. The 2010 split wiped a generation of leaders leaving the BDP in tatters. Bulela Ditswe of 2013 and the outcome of the 2014 elections eroded the base upon which Khama would pick a successor.
Forty years after spearheading a succession plan Masire passed away in June 2017. The pipeline of leadership talent with sufficient depth and requisite experience was shattered. A morphed model of honouring loyalty to the leader irrespective of competencies eroded credibility of institution. Worst was the influx of opposition activists whose values were inconsistent with the BDP. The turbulent transition, self-destruction and implosion and factional jostling for the leadership point to one thing.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi was an accidental successor.