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Slumber Tsogwane, the VP from nowhere

When still a Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi survived an attempted coup by senior Cabinet Ministers. Masisi's survival can be attributed to the then President Ian Khama’s support, which those that led the coup, did not have.  Masisi was Khama's blue-eyed boy. How did Masisi achieve his position with Khama? 

Two things happened that would set Masisi towards the presidency. The first, his appointment as Assistant Minister and later Minister of  Presidential Affairs. It is here that his work ethic was noticed by Khama. He was a hard worker. The second event that would become a springboard was the infamous 2011 national public service strike. Here, Masisi went all out to defend the government when most of his colleagues watched from the sidelines. He did such a good job that he was targeted by Johnson Motshwarakgole and other trade unions for elimination at the general elections. He survived. Khama was impressed.

Foes were not amused by Masisi energy and eagerness that they composed songs about how bad a person he was for doing such a ‘good’  job at defending the undefendable. If you ignore the lyrics, you could actually dance happily to the songs. Masisi, the Chutney Sauce loving Minister would be propelled by these events to the Vice Presidency. Yes, Masisi loves Ms Balls Chutney Sauce.

Having survived the coup, Masisi became too aware that, given another chance, the plotters would re-group. Although he would continue to work with them, he never trusted them. As the months progressed and the days for his Presidency fast approached, Masisi stopped eating from the common Cabinet kitchen. He became unsettled. He would bring his own food and water. Who could blame him? He was in the midst of his enemies. They gave him their smiles but had knives behind them, ready to stab him. He would exert his revenge soon. Yes as soon as he became President. He would also be helped by the voter.

Every President chooses his own Vice President; not the party. Members of Parliament (MPs) then endorsed the Vice President. The trick that has been used by all Presidents is to nominate their preferred candidate for the position. They withhold appointing Ministers. In this way, everyone is forced to agree to the appointment of the preferred candidate. This is not surprising as all MPs want to become Ministers. This is how Presidents get away with their choices for Vice Presidency. In Masisi’s case however, Khama had appointed him Minister of Education first. This was just a decoy as he would shortly thereafter move to the Office of the President once he and Khama had agreed that Masisi would occupy the number two slot.

For his Vice President; Masisi would execute a slightly different game plan. He opted for the tried and tested. There was no decoy. He would appoint a VP first before appointing Ministers. We all fell in line. It was interesting to see people changing overnight in order to catch his eye. Principle was forgotten. Not that it was ever there. Khama’s former praise singers became Masisi’s and Khama became an overnight enemy. 

To this day, I wonder what Khama did to them personally. Masisi was not fooled. Of all President Khama’s associates; only Isaac Kgosi has remained faithful and true. An admirable character trait so lacking in many people. Former President Festus Mogae had warned me about a particular Minister and how that Minister stopped talking to him once he left office. He was puzzled by such conduct. I witnessed the same changes towards Khama by the same Minister. Khama had done more for this Minister than for any other Minister. The Minister had entertained being Khama or Masisi’s Vice President.

In 2014, when the names for Specially Elected MPs were mooted, two names were up for consideration, besides Kitso Mokaila and Kenneth Matambo. The names were of Bernard Bolele and Unity Dow. If it was not for Khama, Unity Dow would not have been nominated. There was an inclination towards Bolele by the caucus. It was however clear from Khama’s presentation where the wind should blow. Years later, the Ministers that benefited from Khama’s benevolence would attack him and perpetuate the misunderstanding between him and Masisi. It served them well. Suddenly they projected themselves as angels. Khama had served his purpose. Masisi was serving theirs. Welcome to Politics 101. I guess it is a destiny that awaits every President once he leaves office. Many years of personal relationships were sacrificed.

These people, some of whom had hogged Khama  and hardly allowed him his space, suddenly turned against him. He was not in power and they wanted a seat at the table. Some would go on to lose general elections. They would still blame Khama for their loss and stop talking to him; strange! I came to the conclusion that they were never his friends and they would do the same to any other leader. They lost because people saw through them.

The appointment of Slumber Tsogwane as VP, although unexpected by many in the BDP was not something that came as a surprise to me. I long saw it coming. During the attempted coup, Tsogwane spoke gently, firmly against it. He was the most senior and the oldest serving MP. Tsogwane does not have a slightest mean bone in his make up. He understands politics, principle and the need to support one’s leader. He is far from being stupid or being a fool. Beyond Parliament, where is he forced by his position to defend the government, he seeks no limelight. He will make a good President some day.

Masisi as VP was never fully embraced by his fellow Cabinet colleagues. At least the ones who had been with him in Cabinet before 2014 did not think much of him. They saw him as being Khama’s man. The new Ministers and assistants who came as MPs in 2014 with no prior history with Masisi were not too concerned. We were just happy to be either Ministers or Assistant Ministers. We had arrived. None of us was thinking of being VPs; at least not then.

Prior to the 2014 general elections, there had been talks of Kitso Mokaila becoming VP after the general elections. He was close to Khama and had worked with him at Botswana Defence Force (BDF). Khama had appointed him to strategic Ministries. If you ask me, he probably saw himself as VP as well. We all secretly did. If you want to have enemies overnight in the BDP, just have your name mentioned for possible VP or Presidential positions or be seen to be close to those who hold such positions. I should know. I was a subject of night meetings in Tlokweng by very senior party members who thought I might and could be the next VP. Their efforts were all in vain as I was never and had never been considered for such a position. What happened to them?

Let’s just say, ‘karma’ caught up with them. They did not make it back to Parliament save for one. Some left the BDP. Their relationship with the ones that remained also collapsed. One would eventually pass on. Mokaila suffered the same fate. Whilst BDP won 98% of the council seats, it lost the MP seat. Senior BDP members sponsored the opposition candidate against him. They in turn attempted to blame the loss on Mokaila’s perceived arrogance. Mokaila the man was easy to read. He exuded confidence and had the arrogance of being associated with state power in his own right and family association. In this regard, he was similar to Masisi.

They were born to politically  powerful families. They had both gone to private schools and had the mastery of the Queen’s language. Masisi had a better accent. Nicer than that of all the Ministers. He was well spoken. I enjoyed listening to him. He had flare and a way with words. He had indeed grown privileged. I was the boy from the hood. When my son came back from school with an Afrikaans accent, I asked him why he could not speak like Masisi. Mokaila on the other hand had a flat accent. Mokaila only really became Masisi’s friend after he became President. Before that he was Khama’s man. A trait inherent in almost all politicians.

As we learnt later Masisi and Khama

had long agreed on Masisi’s ascendancy to power. Masisi was seen as a fearless fighter who took the fight to the opposition. Masisi only had to win his constituency to assume the converted spot. Contrary to popular belief, Mokaila was never in the running. It was and had always been Masisi.

Although younger than most, Masisi was a senior Minister in Khama’s government. The senior BDP Ministers and MPs had one thing in common, they all had Presidential ambitions. Each one of them thought they were better than the other. Dorcus Makgato, Tshekedi Khama, Pelonomi Venson, Vincent Seretse, Nonofo Molefi, Shaw Kgathi, Phillip Makgalemele, Eric Molale and to some extent Thapelo Olopeng all saw themselves as either VPs and future Presidents. That is the only explanation one can give for all of them wanting to be elected MPs than nominated ones. The former was a requirement for a VP nomination. Molale benefitted generously from Khama’s benevolence. Khama made him Minister twice. I suspect that had he won the Parliamentary seat after James Mathokgwane left for SPEDU, he would have taken his chances.

Guma Moyo against all his protestations to the contrary also harboured those ambitions. I must admit, the idea once crossed my mind. Nothing wrong with personal ambition! I did not know of  Masisi’s personal Presidential ambitions.

One senior female Minister however had mentioned a few years earlier that Masisi had mentioned that he would be the next VP. This was during the national strike.

They had not taken him seriously then. The Minister was known to harbor such ambitions herself. She never realised them. Like all and/or others, she would turn against Khama and would receive a consolation prize for her efforts. 

Tsogwane never entertained any Presidential ambitions at least publicly. He was not that ambitious. He was happy being a Minister. In fact, truth be said, the other senior Ministers did not think much of him and often made fun of his difficulty with the Queen’s language.

A teacher by profession, I suspect English was probably his fourth language. He was not very eloquent. He was never seen as a threat. There had been rumours of his imminent retirement from politics come 2019. These rumours gained currency when Bogolo Kenewendo was nominated for Parliament by Masisi and endorsed.  Tsogwane has never to my knowledge publicly announced his retirement plans. Talking about Kenewendo lets digress a bit.

When the two additional positions of specially elected were created, nobody knew who would be nominated besides Khama and Masisi. Mephato Reatile and Kenewendo would be the surprise pick. Names bandied about included those of Tebogo Masire and Blackie Marole. I did not know myself until the night before the nomination in Parliament. I was sworn to secrecy.

Kenewendo flew into the country from Ghana a day before the nomination and swearing in of the Specially Elected MP. I had the privilege of spending some time with her. Silly you, not that type and kind of time! We had a drink together and I later dropped her off at Dr Keith Jefferis’ house in Extension 11. She had the misfortune of being driven in my Hilux.

On nomination day, when Kenewendo was ushered into Parliament by none other than Tsogwane, let’s just say Vincent Seretse was excited.  So were many male MPs, both from the ruling party and opposition. Beauty has no opposition. They all said what a beautiful damsel she was. Her beauty was captivating so too was her confidence and self assurance.

They would crowd around her. She had the looks and the brains. Indeed God must have been in a good mood when Kenewendo was conceived.

All the specs were there. Such was her magnetism that one male senior Minister was so smitten and would follow her like a love sick puppy. It was hilarious to watch. She brought excitement to Parliament. Masisi had chosen well. 

A week going into Ian Khama's retirement, many of the senior ministers began to develop high blood pressure. They would be heard asking who the next VP would be. All of them asked me that question given my proximity to Masisi at the time.

I spoke to Tsogwane at around 10pm, the night before he was going to be announced as VP. Lets just say I wished him well. I knew he was going to be appointed. Masisi never told me and he did not have to tell me. The people that saw themselves as his VP had attempted a coup before. You did not have to be a rocket scientist to know what would happen. At least Makgato went to apology to Masisi for her part in the failed coup once it became clear that Masisi would be the next President. Others involved in the coup would also apologise eventually. They needed to do that for their survival. It is called politics of the belly. Masisi accepted their apologies but did not forget.

On the morning of the VP announcement, I sat next to Guma Moyo in the Cabinet room. All the MPs were there. All of the senior Ministers present did not know who had been appointed. They asked each other in hushed tones. I was secretly smiling. Tsogwane gave it away in a way no one noticed. He was wearing a beautiful light blue suits and not his over-sized brown suit that he loved so much. You did not have to ask whether it was an expensive suit. It looked it. His face was also content. He had just been informed earlier, quietly that he would be the next VP. He had a sly smile. A man would usually buy an expensive suit if he is has fallen in love and wants to impress a girl. He would also do it if he was promoted. The latter was Tsogwane. He also wore new glasses. He looked different. Almost handsome!

Masisi entered the Cabinet boardroom and did not waste time. He briefly explained the reason for his choice. He had 2019 in mind. 2019 and the need to win elections was as he explained the reason for the choice he would be making. In that explanation, he indicated that his choice could change after the elections. He announced the name Slumber Tsogwane.

None of the senior ministers were happy. It was like they had been betrayed.  I enjoyed observing their faces. Their faces lost colour and their lips became dry. Some were transfixed in their chairs. When they spoke, it was with an effort. They had no choice but to pretend they were happy for Slumber Tsogwane, a man they had so often ridiculed. 

On that day, the smell of French colognes that usually permeate the room was drowned by that of traditional herbs. It was the battle of our traditional doctors and their supremacy. Some of the Ministers smelt like they had not had a bath in days leading to this day. Right in that room, it was clear that it was a battle to the finish. The devil was in the room.

Ian Khama had never anointed anyone VP for Masisi. Masisi made his pick and picked a candidate that would compliment him and not compete with him.

As we trooped out of the Cabinet boardroom, I heard one senior male minister saying his traditional doctor had let him down and useless. He had travelled all the way to Swaziland to engage in rituals. I burst out in laughter. I would later ask him, what happened. Although he did not want to say it at first he relented. This is what he said, that, the traditional doctor had instructed him to drive at 160km from Swaziland. In this drive, he was not look behind him until he reached Gaborone.  He would later lose the general elections.

*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. Next will installment will be 'The recruitment of James Mathokgwane to SPEDU'

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