Battle for the soul of BDP


It is D-Day for the campaign of the soul and heart of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Mmegi political reporters ONALENNA MODIKWA-KELEBEILE, BAME PIET, OARABILE MOSIKARE and TSAONE BASIMANEBOTLHE take another look at leading contenders for the position of party chairperson

Tebelelo Seretse: The defiant Iron Lady

As the only woman in the race, Tebelelo Seretse has so far maintained the pace and momentum to make sure she finishes the race with a bang. But will she? Currently holding no party position or any position of political leadership, Seretse has made a strong comeback into politics proper. After one term in Parliament, and holding several cabinet posts, Seretse was appointed Botswana’s Ambassador to the United States of America (USA) after the 2009 general elections. A little before then, Seretse stood and lost with a slim margin, the chairperson position to the former BDP strongman Daniel Kwelagobe during the contentious Kanye congress. 

It could have been easier to disappear into oblivion and enjoy the comfort of political appointment, away from the rough and tussle of contests. She has refused to succumb to a political death, but instead re-entered the male-dominated race and as expected, in the process has had to rough the negativity and criticism.


Weaknesses and strengths

Seretse is not new to BDP elective politics, as pointed earlier, seven years ago she lost the chairmanship in a bitter race that saw the party losing a chunk of the leadership to the breakaway party.

Since she does not hold any engaging political responsibility, she has been able to traverse the length and breath of the country with ease soliciting for votes. Her vigorous campaign could reap her rewards at the weekend congress.

Another positive aspect of her campaign is that her stay in the US, has ensured she has not been immersed in the BDP factional politics, which has often times, divided the party. This leaves her as a serious contender who is also very clean politically in the face of the BDP diehards.

Seretse’s strength rests on the reality that she reportedly has a strong backing of the Women’s Wing, which she previously served as the chairperson. Unconfirmed reports from within the ruling BDP and the pro-Masisi camp in particular show that vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi whose campaign is over-resourced and tipped as a frontrunner, may have rocked his boat as his recent remarks in Palapye may have alienated him from the powerful organ of the BDP-Women’s Wing.

Having been in the trenches long enough, Seretse has the wherewithal to fight to the bitter end. She may have previously lost the Serowe South constituency to her nemesis Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi but this time around she seemingly has a renewed vigour to win.

Seretse’s weakness is that she is a temperamental person who can unleash an outburst whenever she feels rubbed the wrong way. This is what she exhibited in her previous political life.


The backers

Seretse is not a person without prominent backers. Insiders say that Seretse enjoys a strong backing from the Women’s Wing and endorsement from unlikely quarters like former party chairman veteran Daniel Kwelagobe. Kwelagobe is on record supporting his former cabinet colleague. Unconfirmed reports also show amongst others, cabinet Ministers Nonofo Molefhi, Fidelis Molao, Dorcas Makgatho, Kgotla Autlwetse and Frans Van Der Westhuizen.

She has the backing of party diehards such as Ford Moiteela, Dithapelo Tshotlego and Mmoedi Modiegi. Moiteela formerly a nominated councillor in the Francistown City Council was in the Samson Moyo Guma team that swept the stakes at the Maun elective congress before he (Moiteela) fell out with Guma.

Tshotlego is also a formerly nominated councillor and former member of the BDP National Youth Executive Committee (NYEC). He is tipped to woo youthful voters to Seretse’s side.


The campaign

Tshoganetso Friction Louwe leads the Seretse campaign team that has traversed all the BDP’s 12 regions and they have a plan to repeat their visits to ensure that they leave no stone unturned and literally seal their support base. Louwe is formerly the chairperson of the Letlhakeng Sub Council.

They have addressed indoor party meetings, addressed councillors and met party diehards praying for their support. The teams are all out soliciting for support ahead of the Mmadinare elective congress, as Seretse would not want to emerge from the race empty handed. The Tebelelo Seretse team is perhaps buoyed by the fact that Venson-Moitoi was possibly standing for the Serowe South parliamentary seat for the last time and therefore, they would like to see her returning to active politics in 2019 in grand style.

Mokgweetsi Masisi : A man after victory

There is no doubt that Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is a clear front-runner in the race to become the BDP chairman. Masisi’s team seems to have support from majority of cabinet ministers and some MPs.  The legislators and ministers are delegates by virtue of their positions. Though he entered the race late, Masisi was able to build a formidable team that will be difficult to beat. The fact that he is a sitting vice president worked to his favour, as he was able to use state resources to campaign around the country.  Masisi’s burden however is for him to prove his popularity within the ruling party by winning the election convincingly. The Mmadinare congress is a real test to Masisi’s popularity within the party. A resounding landslide victory would cement his position in the party and scare away future challengers.


His backers

His strategic position as the vice president is also working for him against his competitors.  Masisi enjoys support from President Ian Khama. It is said some of his cabinet colleagues like Minister of Defence, Security and Justice, Shaw Kgathi, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Slumber Tsogwane, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Thapelo Olopeng among others are working around the clock to secure Masisi a win. Masisi also got an endorsement from former president Sir Ketumile Masire.


Weaknesses and strengths

Masisi enjoys support from most of the delegates from the southern parts of Botswana and shares delegates with other contenders in the northern side of the country. His target is 90 percent of the vote during the elective congress. But he has a mammoth task in areas such as Maun and some constituencies in the North East because there are controlled by Biggie Butale who is also in the race.

Some feel that Masisi is not strong enough to unite ruling party members especially in times like this when the BDP had lost most of the constituencies in the southern side. They feel Masisi’s arrogance towards workers would keep on disadvantaging the party during elections. Masisi would have a long way to go since he has to be popular amongst the BDP members. His team is also working under pressure to campaign for him.

There are plenty of advantages for Masisi. His campaign has a lot of resources to reach all areas that others cannot reach. Of late, some BDP members had been crying that his team uses government resources to campaign. He also enjoys the support of party elders. It is a fact that regionalism is alive in the BDP. Some hold the view that it is high time a president from the southern region is elected. Masisi is strong in the south while he is struggling in other regions.


The campaign

Ishmael Legwaila a councillor in Bobonong is Masisi’s campaign manager. Masisi’s campaign team is probably the most organised of all the teams - well funded and managed.  The team is divided into two groups. One group was responsible for communication and logistics, and the other was responsible for mobilising foot soldiers. Initially controversial outgoing Member of Parliament for Tati East Samson Moyo Guma was Masisi’s main funder and campaigner, but the team sidelined him a few weeks before the elections.

Biggie Butale: An ambitious neophyte

The Tati West legislator Biggie Butale is one of the first candidates to declare their interest for the coveted position of the party chairperson. Although he was voted as an MP for Tati West constituency for the first time in 2014, he comes from a BDP family. Unlike other candidates, Butale has compiled a manifesto to guide the reforms he wishes to implement for the sinking ruling party. He is a candidate with an agenda. He takes this contest as a battle for ideas for the reformation of the party.


Weaknesses and strengths

Butale is considered a candidate who has taken the real battle to the turf of the vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi. It is said that Butale commands the respect of the man himself, Masisi. Of all the other chairpersonship candidates, Masisi is said to have given Butale a chance to win the race.

To ensure his seriousness in this race, Butale is targeting half of the 570 delegates from the 57 constituencies. And out of 411 council delegates, Team Butale is seeking 30 percent of them. As the vice president is struggling to have delegates from the north, Butale has capitalised on that. Last week, it was reported that the Francistown region snubbed the vice president and the battle will be between Butale and Tebelelo Seretse for the soul and heart of the Francistown region. Man of the cloth Butale is relatively new to BDP party politics and is unknown to some of the BDP diehards. Some party members have met his entry into the chairmanship race with suspicion. While he is a passionate and energetic person through out the campaign it was clear Butale’s team lacked resources to take on other leading contenders.


His backers

But last week Sunday a lunch organised by Tebelelo Seretse was also a flop in Francistown. Francistown region has been under the influence of Tati East MP Samson Moyo Guma who was reportedly backing Masisi. But after the announcement that Guma is quitting politics, his supporters are reportedly bitter. It is alleged that they feel that their man is being persecuted by the power that be at the highest office in the land. Because of this fallout, Guma’s supporters had reportedly shifted their allegiance to one of their ‘own’, the Tati West legislator. Both Tati East and Tati West are neighbouring constituencies.


Campaign team

The South East regional secretary Collen Motshotli is leading Butale’s campaign. Some of the regions that support Butale outrightly are South East, Mochudi East and Mochudi West. He also openly enjoys the support of Boteti East MP Setlhomo Lelatisitswe but it is said other six backbenchers have privately expressed their support for him. One of his backers alleged that more than half of the cabinet are pro-Butale.

Ndelu Seretse: A lonely soldier 

Dikgakgamatso Ndelu Seretse is the only recent former minister in this race to become the party’s next chairman. A politically bruised man, Ndelu, as he is often affectionately referred to in political circles, is a man after political redemption.  His world crumbled the moment he lost his primary elections to Kgotla Autlwetse in 2013. Another major drawback came when he did not make it to the list of specially elected members of Parliament after the October 2014 hotly contested elections.

Weaknesses and strengths

By all accounts, Ndelu Seretse is clearly a capable man, but his political career has been dogged by controversy after controversy. At one point at the height of his political career he faced damning corruption charges but was later acquitted by the courts of law. Be that as it may the charges had a serious dent on his credibility as a politician.

It came as no surprise that he lost his party’s primaries in 2013. Without any portfolio in the executive, Ndelu is clearly helpless. It has been difficult to convince most of the powerful party members in the legislature and the executive to back him. Even his first cousins Ian and Tshekedi Khama have failed to back his candidacy.

A retired Brigadier, Ndelu has vowed to fight until the end. But from the look of things he is losing or has lost the war. His handlers have parried alliance with Tebelelo Seretse to frustrate the frontrunner vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Pockets of BDP members sympathetic to him including his rivals’ attests that humility is something no one can take away from Ndelu. A devout Christian, Ndelu his major strength can be found in the way he presents himself to the people – soft spoken and respectful.


The backers

It has been a lonely journey for Ndelu in this campaign. While nobody has publicly declared who they are backing, there are reports that some cabinet ministers, among them Kitso Mokaila are behind Ndelu. After visiting the country’s 57 constituencies, Ndelu thanked his supporters through Facebook message on Monday: “It has been a looooong few months for both the Candidates and the Delegates.

I wish to thank you for your patience with us; enduring the lengthy conversations; the phone calls; the often mis-timed visits (haha) but above all, the good spirit with which you dealt with TeamNdelu! My humble gratitude goes to you all! (sic)”


The campaign team

Member of Parliament for Francistown West Ignatius Moswaane has been Ndelu’s loyal lieutenant. The outspoken MP together with a group of men and women particularly from the Francistown region form Ndelu’s campaign team.

Without enough resources to campaign the team has failed to sell their man adequately to BDP members.

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