SELEBI-PHIKWE: The appointment of the MP for Mmadinare, Ponatshego 'PHK' Kedikilwe to succeed the retired Mompati Merafhe as Vice-President brings together two strange-bedfellows at the apex of the country's power structure. For years, PHK and President Ian Khama were political rivals in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
The two belonged to different political groupings in the party who were engaged in a bitter contest for supremacy. The camp loyal to then Vice-President Khama and his boss, Festus Mogae seemed to have lived in fear that Kedikilwe and his group were plotting a major bid for power that will result in an unprecedented challenge to a sitting president. At the same time, the Mogae-Khama alliance was planning how to cut down their rivals to size with indications that Khama was gearing to oust Kedikilwe from his coveted perch of BDP chairman. After being restrained for sometime by 'party elders', Khama finally entered the fray and trounced Kedikilwe. It was a total humiliation as Kedikilwe even failed to make it to the central committee in elections for additional members. From then on, Mogae and Khama ruled the roost in both government and BDP as Kedikilwe and his allies sulk and lick their wounds. So thorough was the mauling sustained by PHK and his allies that they had to beg their rivals to be rehabilitated. Kedikilwe himself seemed to have lost the guts to wage political war. When he was brought back to cabinet, he buried himself in his ministerial duties and never bothered with trying to regain the political initiative even when young guns in the party took the mantle from him and succeeded to put Khama on the back-foot. His resignation to political defeat became even more evident when he announced that he will quit politics in 2014. It is not the desired ending for a man who was at one time the red-hot favourite for the presidency at a time of transition. However, his new appointment indicates a complete turn-around in his relationship with Khama. It means that the two men have made peace and enjoy a high level of trust that was unheard of about a decade ago.
Despite the setbacks he has suffered, PHK is a respected man across the political divide. He is viewed as a philosopher king in some quarters, while others revere him as an able administrator and a man good learning.
Undoubtedly he is one of the longest serving MPs and diligently served the country in different portfolios. His appointment to the vice presidency may be proof that the President Ian Khama will eventually win the battle against factionalism in the party.
However he dropped a bombshell in a forum where everyone least expect it. "I have never been part of the BMD formation and I have never had any intentions to join it. I was accused of having sent some people ahead to form the new party and that I was due to follow later on. I just kept quiet, I did not want to counter those rumours. Please learn to scrutinise such unfounded rumours before believing them," he said at a rally in Selebi-Phikwe.
Given the hard work and commitment that Kedikilwe has shown to the ruling party and having been an MP since 1984, his political life should be celebrated. His planned retirement from active politics in the coming general elections has paved the way for fresh faces to carry the baton. His successor as Mmadinare MP may have to contend with the increasing opposition influence in the constituency. Currently, the opposition has managed to penetrate the once impregnable BDP stronghold by winning a council seat in the last elections and gaining another through defection.
Mogapi ward is now in the hands of the BMD after councillor Joseph Dintwa defected while Sefhophe ward was snatched by Botswana Congress Party during the last general elections. Without the titanic PHK in the race, the opposition may fancy their chances given his BDP successors may not enjoy his status. One man that may be in focus is Kefentse Mzwinila who is now a nominated councilor at Sowa Town. The political upstart once launched an onslaught against Kedikilwe for the BDP primaries but suffered a technical knock-out after a suspension from the party.