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Remembering BCP’s pioneering leaders

FRANCISTOWN: Botswana Congress Party (BCP), a breakaway political formation from the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) will this coming week commemorate its 20th anniversary at Bobonong on the sidelines of its delegate’s conference.

The Bobonong festivities will simply evoke memories of 20 years ago when 11 politicians purposed it amongst themselves to break away from the BNF led by its founding father, the late Dr Kenneth Koma.

It was 11 legislators of that time, who actually lobbied some members of the BNF to form a new party following the BNF’s tumultuous meeting in Palapye in 1998, where the opposition politicians literally fought, breaking chairs and windows at a local primary school in Palapye in the process.

Even before the pioneering members of the BCP could conclude their business after their initial meeting held in Mochudi to give the party its name and other necessities, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) derisively scorned the notion of a new party.

But, this could not in any way deter the determined political animals that wanted out of a party that they then called Koma’s property.

Former BNF stalwarts, Michael Dingake, Joseph Kavindama, James Pilane, Sidwell Gabatshwane, Mokgweetsi Kgosipula, Otlaadisa Koosaletse, Isaac Mabiletsa, Gilson Saleshando, Maitshwarelo Dabutha, Paul Rantao and Vain Mamela formed the BCP.

By all political standards, this was crème de la crème of the local politics given the strengths of individual members of the pioneering BCP leadership

As the BCP commemorates its 20th anniversary, Botswana will definitely remember the departed heroes in the likes of Kavindama who in his prime years campaigned in the hostile terrain of the vast Okavango on horseback, beating his much-resourced opponents from the ruling BDP to their game.

Kavindama spewed out entertaining politics, politics of bread and butter issues and equally, he was accustomed to the politics of character assassination and mudslinging.

Although he served in a rural constituency, it never mattered to him, as he was chiefly concerned with delivering his message to the targeted audience.

Writing about departed heroes like Dabutha, who in Gaborone North remained very popular as an MP, can only help evoke memories of the years of yore with nostalgia.

The late Dabutha had a way of leaving his audience spellbound and in stitches of incessant laughter at the same time winning their hearts and minds with his well-thought out messages.

He earned himself the moniker ‘Bombshell” after one of his promises to drop a bombshell that however never came.He also had a way of thoroughly investigating his presentation in Parliament at a time when the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) was not yet born. He easily became a favourite with the hoi plloi.

Another equally entertaining journalist-cum-politician, Paul Rantao, who would later return to the BNF before his death, was the people’s politician.

He knew how to grab the people to his side and feed them on his well-researched political food from the palm of his hand. He was never boring and never ran short of new material.

Nicknamed Ostrich, Rantao was one of the rare breeds when it came to opposition politics. His strength can be traceable to his ability to speak both Setswana

and English very well.

Other departed heroes that the party will remember include Gabatshwane and Pilane who during their time helped the BCP shine as a new kid-on-the-block.

Some of the surviving pioneers include the pioneering BCP president Dingake, a gifted author, columnist and revered politician who brought his African National Congress (ANC) experience to the BCP. Turning 90 years, this year, Dingake has always been a father figure to many upcoming politicians in the BCP.

He is perhaps, one of those who rendered the BCP attractive to the youthful politicians who jumped on board over the years.

His demeanour presents him as a dedicated and responsible politician, albeit with tolerable flaws as no one is infallible, Dingake comes across as this politician who seemingly struggled in freedom square politics, but performed with aplomb as an administrator or in case of his written work.

Another group of politicians that have left long lasting impressions in the BCP family include its former president, Saleshando senior, the father to the current president, Dumelang Saleshando, Mamela, former Francistown-West MP and the party regional leader.

At any given time, this duo was used as graders to clear the path for other politicians given their vast knowledge of issues and intrepidity.

In all spheres of politics, including Freedom Square, Parliament and indoor meetings, Mamela and Saleshando stood out in terms of serving their party.

They travelled the length and breadth of the country serving the BCP deep from their hearts. They don’t need any introduction.

Saleshando senior might have retired from active politics, but his invisible hand remains traceable behind his son’s performance.

As for Mamela, he is still active and aspiring to represent his party at parliament level and he seems ready to fight with all that he has to make an impact for the party that he sacrificed for its formation 20 years ago.

Koosaletse, Kgosipula and Mabiletsa retraced their steps back to the BNF when things were not adding up during their stay at the BCP. They definitely have had a contribution to the BCP of today and chose to move on with their political lives.

Mabiletsa will however, choose to rejoin the party that he helped its formation leaving the BNF again.

Although this does not reflect on the party’s popular vote, at the BCP’s first bite at the general election in 1999, they ended with only one MP.  In 2004, there was only one party MP in Parliament and it was in 2009 that the number of BCP MPs grew to four and later to six after defections from other parties.

The number of BCP MPs dwindled again in 2014 as they dropped to three.

The BCP will have to reflect on the fluctuating numbers of representatives in parliament as it prepares for the 2019 general elections.

BCP vice president, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang has confirmed that the party will launch its 20th anniversary celebrations in Bobonong during the party’s conference over the long weekend.





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