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Pilane: The gateway to power

Nehemiah Modubule couldn’t believe I had won in Lobatse. I recall he used to refer to me as a rented politician from Gaborone. Truth be told, I hadn’t expected to win myself. I had hoped that if I lost, it would be by a respectable margin.

During the campaigns leading to the general elections, we were involved in some sort of propaganda against each other.  When the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) accused me of coming from Gaborone, I would respond by saying Modubule was my neighbour in Gaborone and his children were at my house having lunch. Modubule wasn’t impressed and he let me know so.

Our propaganda wasn’t malicious or hateful; it was friendlier. There was no animosity. Modubule didn’t expect to lose to a novice; I didn’t expect to win. The equation balanced.

Having won, I was naive to think that as members of the same party, MPs, Cabinet colleagues and so on, we would have the same drive and agenda. Boy was I wrong. One of the lessons I would later learn is how dishonest politics and politicians can be.

It’s almost second nature to them. If one is not careful, you are bound to hate everyone for absolutely no reason at all. Apparently, there is always someone saying something about you. As for our leaders, whatever the security agencies tell them, they believe hook, line and sinker. That’s the tragedy of our times.

Honesty has no value. Our leaders are often fed misinformation and held captive of some imaginary danger. The same happens sometimes in briefings to Ministers. Unless you are hands on and verify information, you can easily be misled and be accused of misleading the nation on answers you have given in Parliament.

The elections in Lobatse were quiet.  I met Modubule at Bothakga Primary School. We had both taken lunch packs to our polling agents. I had been driving around checking my polling agents. I suspect he had done the same. When the results came out and I was declared the winner, I never received a congratulatory message from Modubule. What would follow were unsubstantiated rumours that a ballot box was missing. The election results were close, with a margin of lesson than 500 votes between the BDP and UDC.

Modubule had apparently wanted to challenge the election results in court. It had been a battle between David and Goliath. The BDP though had spent time campaigning in the area. President [Ian] Khama came on numerous occasions to boost the campaign. Vincent Seretse, Peter Siele and Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi (Mma Venson) all played their part in either diffusing tensions and/or promoting peace in Lobatse. With the ballot paper box issue somehow hanging in the air, I never had time to celebrate my victory in Lobatse lest the unexpected happened. Sidney Pilane, who was with Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) at the time, would step in to lay the election outcome to rest.

Pilane would prevail upon Modubule not to contest the outcome of the elections. There is a lot I can say about Pilane. To some he is a controversial figure; to me, he has been a father figure and mentor. I suspect I know him much more than most people who often label him controversial. A brilliant lawyer he is. Of course, like all of us, he has his own personal ambitions.  The one true thing you will get from Pilane is honesty. He says things the way they are. This is what makes him unpopular.

I had heard of Pilane during my primary school days. Pilane, Isaac Lesetedi, Lizo Ngcongco, Peter Collins, Duncan Morotsi (my uncle) were some of the leading lawyers in the 1980s. These were followed

by the Late Moatlhodi Marumo (my former employer), Key Dingake, Dick Bayford, Patrick Makgabenyane, Tshepo Motswagole and Otsweletse Moupo in the 1990s. I looked up to them and wished to be one of them some day.

I first saw Pilane in action at the High Court in Lobatse. He was representing a popular football player who used to play for Extension Gunners. We would dodge lessons at school just to go and watch and marvel at his excellence. Funny thing is that the High Court staff allowed us in court even when we were in our school uniforms and it was obvious we had dodged classes. Pilane came to court in an s-curl hairdo. Morotsi kept an afro and dressed like those music stars of the 1980s. Ngcongco would accompany Pilane. Representing the state was Bayford; the Judge was Justice Dako. Let’s just say Bayford was in a lot of trouble. Pilane and Ngcongco prevailed.

I would later meet Pilane in the early 2000s when he returned from his sojourn in South Africa where he had gone to practice his trade. Being from Mochudi, he also had family ties in South Africa as do most Bakgatla. Pilane would later join former president Festus Mogae’s administration as special advisor to the President. He would go on to tell me how certain BDP political heavyweights would use the opposition to question his citizenship and spread false rumours about him just to have him removed from the Office of the President.

Mogae, who was aware of Pilane’s situation, ignored the noise around Pilane. Thankfully there was no DIS at the time. Mogae who was also a BDP president had friends in the opposition such as Gobe Matenge. I once asked Mogae why he created the DIS as an independent organisation rather than a unit within Botswana Police Service.  He expressed regret with the benefit of hindsight.

Pilane had sought to employ me but that did not materialise, as he was himself recruited by Mogae as Special Advisor. He left with Mogae when Mogae’s term expired, not before some controversies though.

Pilane would be allowed by Mogae to represent the government against Basarwa in a famous case involving Roy Sesana. In one of his appearances he ignored the Judge’s instructions and refused to stand by. The court found him in contempt. Unity Dow was in that panel of Judges. I represented him before Justice Marumo for a stay of the imprisonment order. It was 10pm and Marumo threw out our application. Pilane never forgave him and Dow. He would that night be incarcerated at first offenders facility. Let’s just say his confinement was very comfortable!

Pilane would never ask anything for himself even though he was very close to power. Those in leadership promised him many things but they never delivered. I once asked Mogae why he never promoted Pilane beyond being the special advisor. His answer was that he thought Pilane was happy with his position. My first meeting with Mogae was organised by Pilane so was my first board appointment at PEEPA and subsequent board appointments. Pilane and I would later be Mogae’s personal lawyers. We are yet to clash in court.

*Advocate Sadique Kebonang is a former Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament for the Lobatse constituency. This is an extract from his book, My Life In Politics And Four Presidents that will be published end of this year.

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