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How BMD flattered to deceive-Part I

As the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) splits for good with the Ndaba Gaolathe-led faction finally morphing into a new political party this week, it leaves behind the Advocate Sidney Pilane-led BMD faction clinging hard to the name BMD. Mmegi Staff, Writer RYDER GABATHUSE & Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS recall how the BMD, a splinter party from the ruling BDP, was formed

They may choose to deny it but evidence on the ground suggests that the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) has flattered to deceive. The hype and euphoria that greeted the arrival of the BMD on the political scene in 2010, seems to be evaporating. Right from its inception, it seemed that the BMD was destined to falter, one way or the other. It was borne out of frustration and it dies out of frustration having failed in its objective to dislodge the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) where they came from. To their credit, they changed the complexion of the national politics.

The reasons for the creation of the BMD were not well thought out. It was hastily assembled as a protest movement with a narrow and limited agenda. The main object was to dislodge and disparage BDP and its leader President Ian Khama. The architects of the BMD were a group of frustrated and disaffected serving Members of Parliament elected under the BDP ticket who felt their views and opinions were not finding expression as a result of Khama’s alleged dictatorial tendencies.

For the uninitiated, the BMD was formed in reaction to what was considered to be Khama’s unilateralism and marginalisation of a popularly elected party central committee. One of the BMD’s founding members reminisced to Mmegi in a recent interview that the catalyst was the suspension of the late Gomolemo Motswaledi.

“Amongst others, the party was formed to espouse internal party democracy, hence why the powers of the party president were curtailed and devolved to its national executive,” our source who preferred anonymity remembered developments of seven years ago as if they happened yesterday.

Party insiders were adamant this week that it still remained unclear as to who in particular advocated for the formation of the BMD. But Motswaledi was known to be reluctant and unprepared to sit out a five-year suspension, noted another party insider. Motswaledi would later accept the decision of a steering committee and his colleagues still consider him the inspiration and symbol of the new party.

Of the three men considered the principal architects of the BMD project, Advocate Sidney Pilane is president of his BMD faction, Botsalo Ntuane returned to the BDP whilst Motswaledi is deceased.

According to party literature, Ndaba arrived on the scene just before the inaugural St. Joseph’s congress in 2011 where he became the party policy director.

Ndaba, a known Motswaledi friend had adopted a low-key role during preliminary activities to set up the party because he did not want to offend his now late father.

How did the BMD come about?

It came about following the tumultuous BDP Kanye congress in 2009. It followed the suspension of Motswaledi (who was then BDP’s newly-elected secretary general) for putting the party and its president into disrepute after contradicting a statement issued by the BDP lawyer, Parks Tafa. It was then that a concerned group of primarily Barata-Phathi faction rose in his defence.

“This involved a series of meetings and other forms of lobbying to have his suspension set aside. Eventually, the pro-Motswaledi group resolved to go to court to challenge the presidential powers that suspended the secretary general,” reminisced an attorney closer to both the BDP and BMD.

The Motswaledi legal team was led by Pilane and Justice Rainer Busang of the High Court, instructing Advocate Roland Sutherland from South Africa. The petition was thrown out by the Lobatse High Court. The matter was appealed and would also be dismissed with costs.

“The final meeting of Motswaledi sympathisers in December 2009 resolved to reconvene in January 2010 and progress the matter. The core team/steering committee at all these stages was Motswaledi who alternated chairing meetings with Ntuane, Samson Moyo Guma, Kabo Morwaeng, Pilane, Wynter Mmolotsi, Gilbert Mangole, Tlamelo Mmatli, Sonny Moatlhodi and Wilson Thupeng amongst others.”

At this time, Ndaba was still living in South Africa, and of interest, BDP stalwart, Daniel Kwelagobe “was providing advice.”

It was in 2010 that a meeting was convened at the Big 5 Lodge with representatives from various parts of the country.

“The meeting resolved and mandated that the steering committee should do the necessary homework for the formation of a new party and report back at Letlhabile School in a few weeks time. The steering committee went about the mandate.

Pilane drafted the constitution and the collective debated various colours and names and settled on the orange colour of change and BMD, self-explanatory for a pro-democracy

movement committed to change.”

They would later hold a big launch convention at Letlhabile School in May 2010 where the party was launched to the nation. Motswaledi was nominated the interim president pending the congress, which took place a year later in 2011. Motswaledi took over from Ntuane who had been the chairperson of the steering committee until Letlhabile School.

Subsequent events soon proved that the BDP could have made correct political calculations about the BMD. In its formative years, the BMD was shaken by the resignations of key founding members. The resignations of the architects of BMD such as Phillip Makgalemele, Guma, Ntuane, Odirile Motlhale and Patrick Masimolole, so early in the life of the movement, should not be seen as mere accidental occurrences.

These BMD leaders quickly realised that the BMD as an entity was founded to pursue a narrow limited agenda and therefore doubted its prospect for survival and sustainability in the long term.

It was specifically on account of lack of clear ideological differences between the BDP and BMD that the founders of BMD retraced their steps to the BDP with relative ease.

And once they were back into the BDP fold, Khama acted swiftly to placate the former dissidents to make them feel welcome. Having realised that lust for power was the principal motive for the formation of the BMD, Khama dangled a carrot in front of the ‘dissidents’. He rewarded Masimolole and Makgalemele with ministerial posts while Ntuane and Guma assumed key party positions of secretary general and chairperson respectively.  

The exodus of the founding members of BMD spelt doom for the future of the organisation. The departure of Guma, who was one of the BMD’s principal financiers, robbed the organisation the support it badly needed at the critical infancy stage.

As if that was not enough, the premature death of Motswaledi led to a leadership vacuum. The organisation sorely missed Motswaledi’s energy, charisma and leadership abilities. Many factors seemed to have conspired to bring the BMD to its knees. And it was a matter of time before the movement succumbed.

Having supposedly learnt lessons from the BDP’s ‘poor governance’, the BMD was not expected to falter as experience is the best teacher. BMD disciples were assured of a better deal in terms of management of party affairs. With rhetoric at its best, an impression was created that the BMD was a Utopian movement insulated from the troubles that often visited and bedeviled the BDP. After all, the BMD was led by young and better educated leaders endowed with extraordinary oratory skills. Talk of naivety! The reality is that the BMD with time proved to be no wiser than the BDP, or other political formations in this country. It is not much of a surprise that the BMD is battling with the very cancer, which continues to eat the BDP internal leadership squabbles.

If Khama’s leadership style is to blame for the split of the BDP, Gaolathe’s leadership style is equally responsible for not only the BMD’s present state of paralysis, but also its final exit from the political scene. As president of the BMD the buck stops with him.

He cannot shift the blame to other players. He cannot escape history’s harsh judgement as the leader who presided over the demise of the BMD. Motswaledi had bequeathed him a strong and vibrant party with prospects for success. But Ndaba squandered BMD’s opportunities. It was Ndaba who elected to ostracise and sideline a properly constituted NEC preferring to account to no one except his own nominees.

Of course, it would be naïve to apportion all the blame squarely on Ndaba alone. The party’s rank and file is equally to blame. For a very long time the members were involved in a conspiracy of silence when it was evident that there was no harmony between Ndaba and his NEC.

The members are guilty of paying sheepish allegiance to Ndaba even when it was reported that he was trampling upon the constitution of the party. Instead of calling Ndaba to order, the members called for constitutional amendments to give Ndaba more powers. The president should at all times fight tooth and nail to preserve the constitution and not subordinate it to personal interest. 

As he forges with the formation of a new political party, Ndaba should carry along lessons learnt from the ill-fated BMD. Otherwise, the new organisation will suffer the same fate.




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