The fight for the soul of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has reignited yet another gruelling political brouhaha as party diehards position themselves ahead of the party’s elective congress in a date yet to be determined.
Mmegi has learnt that the members want the party to hold its elective congress this year since the old committees’ mandate has long elapsed three years ago but the election could not be held as per the constitutional provision due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is not the first time some unhappy members make attempts to wrestle the party from pro-President Mokgweetsi Masisi supporters. The move is not unprecedented as it happened in 2009 when the Barata-Phathi faction won more powerful seats against those who were favoured by former president Ian Khama, who was the helmsman at the time. By then the party secretary-general position was freshly won by now late Gomolemo Motswaledi and his vice was Wynter Mmolotsi.
The outcome of the congress frustrated Khama to the extent that he could not even convene a single central committee meeting until Barata-Phathi factionalists trooped out of the party resulting in the formation of the BDP splinter party known as the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). At the time, when Motswaledi challenged Khamas’ decision, he (Khama) then slapped him with a 60-day suspension. Political altercations within the BDP have been growing and seemingly intensifying since some MPs and councillors have not been in the good books of some party stalwarts. The tension between President Masisi and some Cabinet ministers has already forced one of them to resign, with others expected to throw in their towels soon. For instance, former Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Mpho Balopi last month resigned from his Cabinet position. The Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Dr Thapelo Matseka who was reshuffled from a senior portfolio at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, is expected to drop a bombshell.
The misunderstanding between President Masisi and the two ministers has been out in the open and it is said that the President had even made it clear to some Cabinet ministers that indeed there exists a problem. Following that, recently some councillors who are Mpho Balopi’s supporters were suspended for 60 days by the party president for allegedly tarnishing the party’s name. And early December last year they appeared before party's disciplinary committee and they were acquitted for the offence they were facing. The councillors were charged by the party after questioning some ministers on issues that they were not happy about in a WhatsApp group for the party.
Disgruntled members are planning to topple some key party members in their current positions. The key positions that the unhappy members are eyeing include party chairperson, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general and treasurer. Mmegi has learnt that the concerned members have asked the current secretary-general Balopi not to resign or step down from his position for now but instead he should focus on building party structures for them to have a good number of delegates that could make them win the positions they are aiming for.
As if in agreement with them, Balopi recently made an announcement through his Facebook page that he is not going to resign from his party position and he would be busy building party structures, especially those that had collapsed. According to information availed to Mmegi, the Balopi team which might include Matsheka and other MPs, is likely to get stronger if other members who are contesting for similar positions are not working hard. It is normally common that the lobby team that President Masisi had given a blessing to especially in the BDP, the team wins an election. In politics, the circumstance or event normally depends on what is happening on the ground.
Information emerging from the BDP lobby groups suggests that President Masisi might call the BDP lobby groups to disband when he actually knows that the situation would favour an emerging group that reportedly enjoys his blessing.
According to sources within Balopi’s team, they have since asked him to defend his position and Matseka to challenge Vice President Slumber Tsogwane for the chairmanship. “The team has not yet finalised its list since some of the members who want to contest do not want their names to be mentioned yet. One of the persons who is still giving us a hard time convincing is former Cabinet minister, Nonofo Molefhi. The campaign is going well and there are no obstacles so far. Balopi has done good for the party and as his supporters, we would not let anyone push him out without fighting. Yes, we understand some in the party have their favourite people they prefer,” a source said. Meanwhile, there has been a debate within the BDP leadership for the party to have a secretary-general who is fully employed by the party and who is not also a Minister. Some of the people who once had interest to contest for party secretary-general position include Dr Alfred Madigele, Lesang Magang and Balopi.
For his part, Magang said he would make a decision when some of the issues are clear regarding the position of secretary-general. “The party resolution on the position will determine whether I should contest or not. If the position wants a full-time employee then it will be something else,” Magang said. Minister Matseka said: “As it is typical as a build-up to any elective congress, members of the party are free to canvass for positions and even approach other members with a view to lobbying them to stand for available positions in the leadership of the party. I have equally been approached and assessing the way forward.” When contacted for comment, Balopi said, "for me it's about the party first. I am willing to serve my party wherever people may feel I am fit to work better at. Yes, I have been approached by party members to stand for different party positions but I have not yet made up my mind on the position I want to contest for. It must be noted that every member of the party has a right to contest for any party position he/she feels could do better when working for the party."