The media has been of late awash with news regarding the interaction between the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the African National Congress (ANC), which also happens to have a bilateral relationship with the Botswana National Front (BNF).
As Cde Gwede Mantashe, the ANC Secretary General mentioned, the ANC’s historical relations with both the BNF and the BDP are different.
At the BNF, we respect the right of the ANC to relate with whoever it chooses to, just as much as we also enjoy that right. What is however disturbing is that almost every time following the ANC and the BDP meetings, the BNF is left with the public and its members wondering if it still enjoys any bilateral relation with the ANC. Our relationship with the ANC dates back to the time when it was banned. It is a principled one borne out of meaningful solidarity with the struggle of the people of South Africa.
The BDP, throughout the liberation struggle of the South Africa was shy and dodgy to give assistance to the liberations movements. Its government through Prohibited Publications Order of 1965 and the Botswana statutory instrument number 67 and 78 of 1969 banned the literature of the liberation movements. As for statements like “the BNF behaves like a nagging wife”, “The BNF are Cry babies” etc which the ANC Secretary General Cde Gwede Mantashe is alleged to have said about us, we will raise them with them at our next bilateral.
It is opportunistic and misguided for His Honour the Vice President of this Republic and the BDP Chairperson, Rre Masisi to say that the BNF has mutated ideologically because of its coming together with other parties to form the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). The parties that have come together to form the UDC share a common ideology. The BNF has always pursued a Social Democratic Programme which the UDC also pursues. In the Preamble of its Constitution, the BNF declares its aims and objectives as being, amongst others, to mobilise all patriotic and democratic forces into a dynamic force. We are happy that we have achieved this through the UDC. Our honest belief is that political ignorance on the part of His Honour the Vice President is largely to blame for these utterances.
Then arose the serious allegations of the UDC, which the BNF is part of, planning and working with the United States of America (US) and the British to unseat the BDP. This to us sound like we are involved in some illegal activity with the US, which is not the case. The UDC is going to take over power in 2019 because Batswana are tired of BDP misrule. We are not in cahoots with the US to unseat the weak BDP. It insinuates that we are committing or have committed an act of treason, which is a big lie and seeks to confuse the nation. The less is said about these allegations of collusion with the US and the British the better. Saying more would glorify the allegations. The BDP is as good as dead, and what are now left is schism wars over its carcass. The high levels of corruption,
We would also like to make a correction about the ANC Conference which was held in Lobatse, and the suggestion that the BDP and ANC relationship will be unshaken because of this. This insinuates that the BDP had a hand in its preparation which is not true. We have a responsibility to ensure that history is not distorted. The ANC Lobatse Conference in October 1962 was the party’s first after it was banned in 1960. The South African Communist Party (SACP) which was banned in 1950 had held its Conference two weeks earlier in South Africa because of its wealth of experience in doing underground work. But because the ANC lacked that experience, it turned to Botswana. The ANC used its connections, friends and comrades in Botswana who had and were working in South Africa to help host the Conference here. It also turned to people like Kgosi Bathoen Gaseitsiwe who later became p*resident of the BNF to lobby the Colonial government to allow them to hold their conference in Lobatse. Kgosi Bathoen Gaseitsiwe and Govan Mbeki were both alumnus of Lovedale.
The Colonial government yielded to pressure and allowed the conference to proceed under police presence. But of course comrades would meet after conclusion of the “official programme” to make critical decisions. Cde Mack Mosepele and Fish Keitsing played a part. The Conference was held at Cde Fish Keitseng’s house. Cde Mike Dingake who disguised as a priest, had an Afrikaner police officer ask him at the Pioneer border post on crossing into Botswana, “Mike Dingake since when have you become a priest?”. To which Dingake responded, “as from today”.
These comrades were to later become leaders and have a hand in the formation of the BNF. The BNF’s association with the ANC did not start yesterday. It is these men and among others Klaas Motshidisi, Theo Mmusi, Dikobe Ontumetse, Frank Marumo, Kenneth Koma who formed the BNF and took the question of international solidarity seriously. BNF members sacrificed their lives and resources to help liberate not only South Africa, but other countries in the region. We did this and continue to do so out of principle as evidenced by our relentless support for the people of Palestine, Western Sahara and Swaziland. We do not do this for political recognition or financial gain.
It is also not our intentions to interfere in the relationship that exists between the BDP and the ANC. The ANC has a right to relate with any party that is in government anywhere. They explained the nature of the relationship they have with the BDP and we have long accepted it.
*Moeti Mohwasa is BNF Secretary General and UDC Head of Communications