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My life in politics and four presidents

I have been asked many times before to write a book of my life’s experiences. 

The question has been what part of my life would be interesting to write about.

For you see, I have been exposed to so much, bad and good to the realities of power in Botswana.

If I told it all, there would not just be a lot of upset families but certainly there would be a bullet with my name on it. From my student days all the way to my professional and political life I have been privileged enough to have seen individuals in their most powerful and vulnerable moments.

From high-ranking government officials to presidents. Stripped of power and privilege, they are like all of us; they worry of everyday life issues. My story with presidents begun rather causally at University of Botswana (UB), with GS26 during my student days as a law student. President Festus Masire would occasionally invite us to the State House for functions. I have never really known any other party other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). It was not popular to be identified with the ruling party during our student days.

Botsalo Ntuane, the GS26 leader was considered brave by those BDP members who were scared to publicly support the party and somewhat a sell-out for belonging to the ruling party by those who belonged to MASS, a student organisation which was Botswana National Front (BNF) inclined.

I was more attracted to Botsalo more for his articulation of issues than the fact that he was BDP. The man could leave you in awe, thanks to his command of the English language. Secretly I admired the opposition guys in UB. They seemed confident and brave. James Mathokgwane, Dutch Leburu, Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, Sidney Mogapi, Dumelang Saleshando, Gabriel Kanjabanga, Wezeza, the man from Xauxau to mention but a few.

These knew the art of student manipulation. As first year UB students, coming from Tirelo Setshaba and being politically exposed for the first time, it was easy to be manipulated.

The BNF Mass members were struggle icons, so they seemed at the time. Always at the forefront of student politics and issues. It was only years later when I became slightly active in student politics and became Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary general under the GS26 ticket that I learnt of the thing called caucusing. By caucusing, the party would agree on a position, about who was going to speak, how any people were going to speak and what the outcome would be.

In other words student meetings and their outcomes were manipulated even before they started. I must confess that when I stood for elections as secretary general, it was more of trying my luck than being convinced that I would win. So it was a shock that I not only won but did so with overwhelming numbers.

More people voted for me than any other candidate. If these votes were for 2019 elections, I would have been accused of voting rigging. More women voted in the SRC elections than any other elections, so I was told.

The cause for that has never been known. Just rumours that the SRC elections had good looking candidates. Well, considering that Gabriel Kanjabanga was once in the SRC, there may be some truth to the rumour. Anyway, my stay as UB SRC secretary general was short-lived.

I was surrounded by very hostile and radical BNF members, who were smarting from their low voter turnout. I resigned from the SRC. The truth is, I was not prepared to be suspended from the University by Professor Thabo Fako, who had a year before sent shockwaves in the student community by suspending James Mathokgwane and Sidney Mogapi.

These had been SRC president and secretary general respectively. They were accusing of staging some illegal strike to driving some university tractor.

Sidney Mogapi was in his chubbiness accused of being the driver of the tractor. The man remains chubby to this day. UB days were interesting.

Most of us who did not come from Gaborone had very little success when it came to dating. There was a term for us those days; suck men.

Come to think of it, there was no corresponding term for girls in the same situation like us. So as a pastime, we either played cards, listened to Radio BOP and once in a while adult movies. Those who took to drinking had the student bar to keep them entertained.

There were no cell phones at the time. Ernest Molome in his fancy cars was a regular at UB. And yes, he was popular with a particular section of the student community. Few individuals

stood out during our time at UB. James Mathokgwane for instance.

He came from the Roman Catholic church. He was nearly an ordained priest. In 1994, he came to UB to study sociology. Well his first year was not very memorable expect that he was very politically active and a member of the BNF. His second year was more interesting. He became the president of the SRC and acquired new habits. He ate pizza everyday. To this day, I am yet to figure out who sponsored the pizza.

He would go on to become the executive secretary of the BNF and later MP for Borolong, breaking records and making history in the process by becoming the first opposition MP for the area before joining SPEDU as director. His recruitment to SPEDU was so well executed that it reverberated around the country. I will tell you how it happened but first things first. Dumelang Saleshando, a political science student was another eloquent public speaker.

He like many in the opposition manipulated the student community in engaging in one of the biggest strikes by UB students. The strike involved an alleged ritual murder of a young girl in Mochudi known as Segametsi Mogomotsi. To cut the long story short, the students invaded Parliament and the police responded by firing tear gas.

I was toying toying with Saleshando, who helped me survive the tear gas after we had successful evaded Parliament.

I had never seen one so shocked and frightened that day than Sir Ketumile Masire.

That evening the President would send the notorious SSG to deal with the students. In that battalion of Special Support Group (SSG) squad was a certain James Duha, who was what you can describe as a no nonsense man. Many years later, I married his daughter.

Whilst my student days were interesting and memorable the best impact in my life was to come after graduation in 1999. I met a legend by chance. To some, he was controversial. To me, he was more of a character you read about in a book and never knew you would meet. As fate would have it, I began work at Monthe Marumo in 1999. In 2000, he set up an office next door. His name was Sidney Pilane and this is how I met him. Dying to know him, one day I plugged the courage to go and greet him. Following behind me as I entered his office was his daughter, Keletso. He must have thought I was hitting on the daughter because the first question he asked me was how I knew his daughter. Such was how awkward our first encounter was. I told him, I did not know her, which was true, except for seeing her walking from UB to his office. Months later he offered me a job. Whilst I was serving notice in order to join him, he called and withdrew the offer. The reason, he had just been offered a position as special advisor to President Mogae. Unbeknown to me, this very encounter was to proof significant years later. The road to State power and interaction had been laid and the man behind it was none other than Sidney Pilane. Before politics, I ran my own legal practice and was also an executive director at Choppies Retail Group. Now it is at Choppies that the country’s who’s who converged. Those that came there were always there to ask for someone. Everybody came there, either in person or through third parties. I interacted will all of them. In 2014, I was recruited to stand for elections in Lobatse as area MP. Nobody believed I would win against Nehemiah Modubule. Even Daniel Kwelagobe, who came to launch me did not believe I would win. He was heard whispering to someone I was related to that I was wasting my time. President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Neo Masisi were at the launch, so was Dr Alfred Madigele and many others. Now if you want to know people’s characters join politics, a place were the devil resides. Politicians speak with forged tongues. Betrayal is something that comes naturally to them. Politicians and their loyalty is like chuff and sand in the wind. It as permanent as your day and minute in power. To be continued next week.


 *Advocate Sadique Kebonang is a former Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament for Lobatse constituency. This is an extract from his book “My life in politics and four president” that will be published end of this year

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