FRANCISTOWN: The suspension of the Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) Pono Moatlhodi from his position as opposition whip last Thursday has caused tension within the opposition coalition.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Tonota was suspended after he made an offer to pay P40, 000 to a minor who he allegedly assaulted in order for charges against him to be withdrawn.
After his suspension was announced, Moatlhodi said he had decided to quit the coalition because he was not consulted before the decision was made public.
The UDC vice president, Dumelang Saleshando maintained the contrary during a radio interview. The State alleges that the UDC legislator and married couple, Maranyane Kebitsang, 68 (deceased), and Nnyana Kebitsang, 61, acting in concert subjected Kesego Olekantse, now 12, to inhuman treatment on January 30, 2019 by assaulting him in Tonota.
The trio is alleged to have thereafter unleashed a vicious dog to bite Olekantse causing him puncture wounds and bruises on his face and body contrary to the Children’s Act.
A number of people took to social media to welcome the decision by the UDC to suspend Moatlhodi. But some wondered why it took so long to suspend Moatlhodi. Is the UDC now playing to the gallery by suspending Moatlhodi when the case is almost coming to its end?
Their position is premised on the fact that the UDC as a party that has often been supportive of all the programmes to curb women and child abuse, did not keenly condemn Moatlhodi’s actions when he was charged (for assaulting the minor) as well as imposing punishment towards him when he was first arraigned in court in January last year.
For instance, the UDC went on and elected Moatlhodi as its candidate for the 2019 general elections despite his charges in Court. Even at the height of his campaigns, Moatlhodi attended Court. All his appearances in Court were also widely publicised in the media.
There are those who have even labelled the UDC’s recent move insincere or deceitful. They said further that the opposition coalition was trying to weld itself into relevance and trying to manipulate public opinion for political expediency as well as countering preempted attacks from the public, media and civil societies.
That is because Moatlhodi’s recent appearance in Court coincided with a time in which the UDC joined civil societies in condemning Nata/Gweta legislator, Polson Majaga, who stands accused of defilement.
The UDC echoed sentiments by civil societies that Majaga should take a leave of absence from Parliament in order to clear his name.
Immediately after Moatlhodi offered a settlement to the minor, the Botswana Child Rights Network called on him to take leave of absence from Parliament. The organisation also recently called on Majaga to do the same.
Political analyst, Leornard Sesa told Mmegi he is of the view that there is more than meets the eye on Moatlhodi’s suspension.
He added Moatlhodi should have been suspended a long time ago to allow him to clear his name because his charges were not fresh and were widely publicised.
Sesa also said it would not be far-fetched to assume that the UDC might have not taken action against Moatlhodi when he was first arraigned before Court January last year because the coalition wanted to win the elections.
The University of Botswana (UB) political science lecturer added that civil societies should also shoulder the blame for lack of action towards Moatlhodi and other legislators who attend Parliamentary proceedings despite facing criminal charges.
“The civil societies in our country have not been consistent and aggressive enough in terms of condemning politicians and prominent people facing criminal charges. They should start to aggressively push for bodies such as Parliament to have a well defined code of ethics that is adhered to.”
Sesa’s other worry is that some civil societies are to some extent run by political activists. This he believes also retards the ability of civil societies to clearly articulate their mandate.
“Our politicians do not see nothing wrong with traversing between the court and the National Assembly because they face little or no pressure from influential bodies like civil societies once they have been charged in court. It is important for civil societies to change tact and devise very strong mechanisms that would force our politicians to step down from office in order to clear their names,” Sesa added.
Saleshando, who launched Moatlhodi as the UDC parliamentary candidate at the 2019 general elections last October disputed insinuations that the coalition leadership delayed taking action against Moatlhodi for political expedience and simply because the UDC wanted to win the elections last year.
“I only became aware of allegations against Moatlhodi after his recent appearance in court. I was genuinely not aware that Moatlhodi had a case before court. I became aware when Member of Parliament for Boteti East, Setlhomo Lelatisitswe raised the issue in Parliament. I then asked Moatlhodi about the issue and to explain himself. A decision was later taken to suspend Moatlhodi as the opposition whip,” Saleshando said.
Saleshando also denied that the UDC might have not been happy with Moatlhodi’s performance as opposition whip and ultimately capatalised on his Court woes to suspend him.
“The suspension of Moatlhodi was purely related to his court case. We have never had any problem with Moatlhodi,” Saleshando said.