I have often been asked who influenced my political decisions and eventually the idea of standing for general elections under the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ticket.
I never set out to be a politician. My desire had always been to be a judicial officer but the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) dealt that a terrible blow. I together with Advocate Sidney Pilane and others were interviewed for the job but we never made the cut. To this day, I don’t know which of the three questions I was asked I failed.
Now those who lived in Lobatse would know one Isso Abdullah. He was a flamboyant politician. What struck me about him was his love for the mayoral chain. I used to wonder what the chain represented and learnt later that it signified power! And it did because all doors closed to others were open to him.
There was then Nehemiah Modubule in later years. At the time he worked for First National Bank. He had an aura around him. I loved him even thought I understood little of his Communist and Socialist rhetoric. He had the education to back him. There was also some mystery and genuineness about him that appealed to most people. He left you spellbound. Little did I know that I would one-day contest elections against him.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) as a political home was not something I had to think about. My mother was a great influence. People of her generation associated opposition parties with lawlessness. She would tell me how poor the country was growing up and how the BDP had transformed it. Coming from Shoshong I thought the late Sir Seretse Khama, the paramount chief of Bangwato and the first president of Botswana, influenced her choice. Growing up between Mahalapye and Lobatse it was not too difficult to discern the political difference and choices.
In Lobatse, most people were Botswana National Front (BNF) sympathisers and most claimed some links to South Africa. Most of the town dwellers were from Gangwaketse, where the paramount chief Bathoen Gaseitsiwe was a known leader of the BNF. Similarly, in Mahalapye, a village in the Central district, the choice of a political party for one was more on the personality of Sir Seretse Khama.
I have never asked my mother why she supported the BDP. I just followed her lest she thought I was a prodigal son. Certainly she never encouraged me to join politics. But she never asked why I did either. Like many, she thought it was the preserve of certain families. When I eventually became an MP, she didn’t know how to address me. Was she to address me as Honourable or just her son by name? I tried making life easier for her by avoiding social events where she would be present lest she be accused of showing off.
I spent all my educational life in Lobatse. From Standard One to Form Five. My happiest moments were spent growing up in Lobatse. I was an altar boy at the Catholic Church. Every weekend was spent attending Saturday classes and then church on Sunday. My mother would never allow us to skip these church meetings. We would watch other kids play soccer on Saturday and would envy them. I hated the experience and couldn’t wait for a time when I could avoid church. That came in Form Three when the good local government transferred my mother to Francistown.
Freedom at last! I met Matsapa Motswetla in Form Three and suddenly realised there was more to life than church; no offence to the Almighty. Now Motswetla was a total distraction and bad influence. He singularly contributed to my waywardness. The other two were Ernest Bagopi and Lincoln Bome, but in small measure. Considered a very good looking boy Matsapa’s claim to fame was his ownership of a pair of white LA Gear sneakers. I owned north stars. Those were the days when owning Hitec, black Chinese shoes, Nike and Reebok sneakers was unheard of. He also owned a pair of black tracksuit pants.
The combination of his white LA Gears and track pants was enough to turn him into a heartthrob; he was in demand. He had this Serowe village boy innocence. That guy who is good looking but naive at the same time; that was Matsapa! Unfortunately, that did not translate and extend to his friends.
We didn’t have the ‘right’ clothes and the right sneakers. He also maintained the Bobby Brown haircut. He was always in the company of Ephraim, his cousin from Jwaneng who spent all the time trying to mimic an American accent. That is how simple life was. Matsapa, innocent as he appeared just like Duma Boko wasn’t oblivious to his good looks. He lost his innocence to both young and old sooner than most of us. He remains popular to this day. He remains a bachelor, not by choice I suspect.
Back at Itireleng and Lobsec in the late 80s and early 90s the schools had students from Zimbabwe. These were very politically inclined. Older and muscular, they called themselves war veterans. They were dark, quite dark.
As a young Motswana, I didn’t know what war vet meant let alone really be interested in politics of other countries. They were popular all round and mostly with women. But there was something peculiar about them. I found that they didn’t like to use or apply roll on. Late in the afternoon, they would start smelling like real war veterans!
Growing up in Lobatse, most of us did not have electricity or television. We spent time playing soccer in the streets or watching Extension Gunners, Maletamotse, Stars and BMC Football clubs. We never had enough money to pay at the local stadium to watch these teams play. We would either climb on top of trees to watch or push our way into the stadium when the gates were opened to let the cars in. In the melee we would get to watch the games.
These teams united the town when they played with teams from outside Lobatse. The first time I saw President Ian Khama in his dark blue Mercedes was when BDF IX played Extension Gunners. I wanted to touch him having been told how he had defeated the Rhodesian army by turning into a bee. I was star struck. Never in a million years did I think I would ever work with him or even get to know him. Such is life; no script at all.
When the then president Festus Mogae deported Professor Good from Botswana I penned a very strongly worded letter to the editor of Mmegi criticising him and Isaac Kgosi for his deportation.
Advocate Pilane and president Mogae were not spared either. Pilane and Mogae would tell me that I sounded displeased with their action. Khama and Kgosi never brought the letter to my attention let alone criticise me for it.
Wynter Mmolotsi would once in a while circulate the letter just to cause trouble. When he did that, I would be so uncomfortable and
Besides soccer, the other popular past time was politics. We were exposed to freedom square politics and to the likes of Daniel Kwelegabe, Maitshwarelo Dabutha, Paul Rantao, Vain Mamela, Dr Kenneth Koma, Kebatlamang Morake, Leach Tlhomelang and Nehemiah Modubule.
Modubule was a gentle soul outside politics. A very principled man. I first met him at FNB where I had gone to cash a cheque. There were no online banking facilities then. One had to queue in a line to be assisted. He came over and offered to assist. I liked him almost immediately. I never knew our paths would cross at any point. He would go on and win the Lobatse constituency as the area MP firstly as an independent candidate and secondly as a member of the BNF. I was happy for him because he had prevailed against the BNF injustice. In 2012, Motswasele Kganetso invited me to a BDP rally in Maokaneng in Lobatse. The BDP hadn’t identified a candidate to take Modubule on. Actually nobody wanted to take that risk. I reluctantly attended to meeting. The most uncomfortable part was when I had to shout “a e jeke”. Now anyone who is new in politics will tell you that they found that shouting uncomfortable. I suspect they were sassing me out to see whether I could be the candidate.
In 2013, Thapelo Olopeng who had come to see Ram Ottapathu at Choppies casually asked me whether I would consider standing for elections as an MP in Lobatse. I said why not. I thought it was a joke. A few weeks later, I would receive a call from Office of the President (OP) inviting me to a meeting with President Khama. I was so nervous. What could the President possibly want from me?
I arrived at OP without a tie. Nervous and unsure of what the meeting was all about. I had not been informed of any agenda. My nerves were more pronounced when I was ushered into the waiting room on the first floor. I noticed a camera hidden at the corner of the ceiling. I would later discover that the camera beamed images to a television set in the President’s office.
As I walked into the President’s office after being called by his secretary, I noticed how small the office was. It certainly did not befit the status of the office. I had a bigger office than the President of the Republic; can you imagine that!
The first question I would be asked by President Khama was why i wasn’t wearing a jacket and tie. I had totally forgotten. Working for myself I was never too concerned with formal attire unless I went to court. I didn’t have the answer. The next statement from the President was to say he had been told I had agreed to be a candidate for the BDP in Lobatse. I said yes. Olopeng had gotten me into a predicament. Who says no to a sitting President? I was totally unprepared for this conversation.
I left the President’s office with mixed feelings. My initial reaction was to just not make any effort towards winning the constituency. It was an impossible task. I never imagined anybody beating Modubule. Even Daniel Kwelagobe, a party veteran, whose sister was my mother’s best friend, never thought I would win. As days progressed I warmed up to the idea of actually running.
Having been confirmed unopposed as a candidate, I would meet Modubule at his house. I asked him for his vote. He thought that was audacious. In return he would buy a baby coffin and a doll and stuff it with images of me and drive it around Lobatse announcing my imminent demise. That was vintage Modubule, the political animal. He would remind everyone that I was a rented politician from Gaborone. In turn, I countered by saying we were neighbours in Gaborone. He didn’t like that. He would send me an SMS complaining about my political antics. I would rely on the BDP and the strong financial support from Ram and Farouk Ismail to take Modubule head on.
Thapelo Matsheka, who was not only a friend and client, would also contribute generously. It was a fight to be relished. Mathokgwane would refuse to campaign against me. Pono Moatlhodi, who had left the BDP for BNF would come to launch Modubule and in his antics roll all over the ground making a point of how bad the BDP was. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was sure I would be uncomfortable and would never attempt such antics. At the time I was attending the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) rally. I was in the VIP tent with Fankie Motsaathebe. The BDP branch committee led by Mma Seleka would ask that I be suspended for attending Modubule’s launch. Come election day, the impossible happened. I won and Modubule lost. Before the results were announced it rained, an omen for new beginnings. It took almost two days before the counting could be completed. While waiting for my results, I received a call from Dutch Leburu informing me that Dumelang Saleshando had lost. I had imagined a Parliament that had Duma, Ndaba Gaolathe, Botsalo Ntuane, Saleshando and myself. It would have been the most desirable hang out spot for the other gender. A combination of intellect and good looks. It was unbelievable.
Truth be told, I didn’t have the strength to sit at the polling station and participate in the counting of the ballot papers. In this regard, I was not alone. Modubule was on the same boat. You would have expected him to be used to it by then. We are represented by our wives, poor women! You can imagine them having to break the news to us. I spent sometime driving aimlessly between Kanye and Lobatse just to pass time. When the results were finally announced I was in the company of Motswasele Kganetso. We were driving in his old BDF Land Rover. He had given the most support during the campaign. For a former army officer, he was not as strong as I had imagined. He never stepped at the polling station during the ballot counting. Although Modubule never conceded, he remains someone I admire and love to this day.
My election in Lobatse took both the BDP and the UDC by surprise. With my results, the BDP had garnered enough seats to allow for the swearing in of the President.
*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 Presidents” that will be published end of this year.