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Masitara: The dark horse in the BDP chairmanship race

RYDER GABATHUSE CORRESPONDENT
Masitara
The second of a series of analyses on Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Central Committee aspirants’ suitability or unsuitability to fill party positions at the July elective congress puts focus on Robert Masitara. Mmegi Staffer RYDER GABATHUSE & Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS sample Masitara’s chances in his challenge against Vice President and party chairman, Mokgweetsi Masisi

Former University of Botswana don, businessman-cum-philanthropist-cum-politician, Robert Masitara has reportedly made a statement of intent to enter the BDP chairmanship race.

He is pitting his strength against  Vice President and incumbent party chairman, Mokgweetsi Masisi and Cabinet minister, Nonofo Molefhi, who  make up the list of aspirants that could soar before the July congress.

At least if recent media reports are anything to go by, Masitara has thrown his hat into the ring.

Seemingly hit by the culture of denialism, which is apparently becoming embedded in the ruling BDP political culture, a number of aspirants for the party positions are reluctant to openly declare their contestation.

This week, Masitara who is tipped to challenge for the party chairmanship was equally unwilling to declare openly, or let alone deny reports linking him to the race. On Monday by telephone, Masitara requested that communication be done through a short message service (SMS) because he claimed to be busy in a meeting. “In a meeting, sms please,” was all Masitara could muster through an SMS.  Even after his request was fulfilled, he could still not budge.

Two questions sent to him via an SMS read: “Is it true that you are contesting the BDP chairmanship? If it’s true, what do you think you are bringing into this coveted position?”

Since then, he has not been available for an interview.  Notwithstanding his silence, Masitara is reputed to have declared his interest within the BDP family.

His intention to stand is a bombshell as few people expected him to challenge for the coveted position. He exited Parliament in 2014, after being booted out of his Gaborone Bonnington North constituency by new challenger, Duma Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

Following his humiliating defeat, Masitara vanished from the political scene. As if he had had enough of the rough terrain of politics, he recoiled away to lead a quiet and serene life.  He had been conspicuously absent from BDP activities and even when his party appeared to be under siege, Masitara continued to remain passive and aloof.

This period of political lull gave pundits enough justification to start writing Masitara’s political obituary.  Lo and behold, Masitara now seeks to resurrect his political career with a bang by way of claiming the chairmanship of the ruling party. Compared to the two other contenders, Masitara is considered a ‘dark horse’ in the race with an outside chance of winning the race.

Can Masitara pull a surprise and snatch victory right under the noses of better known and accomplished candidates like the politically shrewd Masisi and Molefhi?

The question is who really is Masitara and what makes him worthy of election for the position of chairman?

Masitara needs no introduction.  His name rings the bell to many Batswana, especially the disadvantaged and less privileged.  It is not without basis that Masitara could be likened to the ‘Biblical Good Samaritan’, a God-appointed Messiah assigned to advance the welfare of

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humanity.

These accolades are well-deserved considering numerous humanitarian and charity deeds carried out under the auspices of the Masitara Foundation.  Notable among the services offered under the foundation is specialised medical care and treatment to children diagnosed with rare afflictions. 

Such acts made an indelible mark and this is what party diehards might remember when assessing candidates for the chairmanship position.  And in this regard, Masitara’s record is second to none.

It appears Robert Masitara exploited fame gained through the Masitara Foundation to fulfil his political ambitions. His political career started off on a wrong footing when he lost his first bid for a parliamentary seat in 2005. Masitara threw his hat in the ring to contest a by-election occasioned by the demise of Paul Rantao, MP for the then  Gaborone West North.

Masitara, the political novice pitted his strength against veteran opposition politician Otsweletse Moupo.  The latter enjoyed the backing of all the opposition parties.  Moupo emerged victorious, but the loss did not dampen Masitara’s spirit.

Masitara was to stage a serious comeback in the 2009 general elections when he managed to wrestle the constituency from Moupo while bringing to an abrupt end the BNF 15-year uninterrupted control of the constituency.

The loss sealed Moupo’s political career and Masitara could as well claim credit for destroying what appeared to be Moupo’s promising political career while frustrating Moupo’s presidential ambitions. 

It remains to be seen as to whether this sterling performance in the 2009 elections, which includes ‘wiping off Moupo from the political scene’, will work for him as he presents himself for election as chairman of the party.

Like any other mortal, Masitara is not infallible. His biggest undoing is lack of tact and diplomacy.  Open declaration of his presidential ambitions could weaken his chances of winning the chairmanship.

The  BDP has a history of clipping the wings of those who were so foolhardy not to be discreet about desires for the high office. 

The list includes Moutlwakgola Ngwako and Ponatshego Kedikilwe.  Keeping a low profile would have been the best tactic under the circumstances. But this is not the way a maverick operates. Now his ‘reckless utterances’ might have given his detractors a weapon to whip him with. 

Those bent on frustrating his bid for the number one spot could see this as an opportune moment to stop the maverick, Masitara from growing too powerful. The position of chairman could embolden him to make further strides to satisfy his insatiable appetite for power.

In his tenure as chairman of the State Owned Enterprises and Statutory Bodies – parliamentary oversight committee - he rubbed colleagues the wrong way.  He embarked on a crusade to rid the country of corruption and undiplomatically accused colleagues of being corrupt.

And now he is asking the very same colleagues to consider him for the position of chairman. Whether the colleagues have forgiven him for accusing them of unethical conduct remains to be seen.



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