Inside the BNF Lobatse fracas

The Botswana National Front (BNF) Lobatse primary election, that was scheduled for May 18, 2024, descended into chaos as allegations of cheating and violence rocked the proceedings. In the matter, there were also allegations that one candidate, Kamal Jacobs made threats to elections officials leading to failure to hold the polls.

Rash Sedimo, the appointed returning officer, submitted a report to the party's national elections board shedding light on the tumultuous events that unfolded over the weekend. James Mathokgwane and Jacobs were to compete as representative for the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) for a parliamentary seat.

Sedimo, also serving as the chairperson of Molepolole North constituency elections committee (CEC), provided a comprehensive account of the challenges encountered during the election process. From accommodation woes to logistical hurdles, the preparation for the primaries was fraught with difficulties. Despite efforts to secure lodging through Lobatse CEC, Sedimo says his team was left scrambling for alternative arrangements.

He states that he wanted to rely on the Lobatse CEC only to be told that there was no CEC in Lobatse hence he asked for the name of the constituency chairperson and was told that it was a certain Moalosi. He states that he contacted Moalosi through a telephone call in which he requested him to secure accommodation for his team.

"He promised me to work on it and that he would get back to me shortly. At around 23:00 I was called by the CEC secretary (Fatimah Khan) telling me that they are already in Lobatse and that Moalosi was not picking up and that they would find alternative accommodation,” he states.

According to Sedimo, on the fateful day, he arrived in Lobatse at around 04:20 hours on the election day without knowing where they had lodged. He states that they told him they were in Pitsane where he went to fetch them.

“When I arrived there, comrades were almost ready, and I immediately got to the task at hand. I opened an envelope from Tsopeng North to access Form D just to brush them up on what they are expected to do once they arrived at polling stations. It is an exercise that hardly took five minutes,” he states.

Sedimo also said just as they were about to board their vehicles to go to Lobatse at around 04:56 hours or thereabout, a team of about 15 or so comrades led by Jacobs and Moalosi Rasesia burst in. “They were so furious and angry that one couldn‘t fathom to reason with them. They were throwing insults, threats and pushing us around. It seems I was the main target, and I couldn't really understand what was going on. I was immediately lifted up, roughed up and put up against my vehicle. Jacobs threatened to shoot me dead on the spot. At first I really thought that it was a robbery until I saw the faces that I knew like those of the aforementioned people,” he states.

Sedimo said Jacobs asked him if he knew the owner of the facility and he answered in the negative, something which seemed to infuriate the group further.

“They told me that it was owned by Mathokgwane and that they knew that we had come to stuff the ballots. Jacobs told me point blank that he will shoot me and kill me and that I take things for granted that I allow myself to be purchased by Mathokgwane. The group also alleged that they were aware that Khan was carrying a black bag, which was stuffed with marked ballot papers in favour of Mathokgwane. They searched all black bags that were in the cars but they couldn't find any ballot papers. All they could lay their hands on were ladies underwear, and these men weren‘t even ashamed of themselves. After what seemed like a long time, some of the group somewhat calmed down a bit and we were able to converse. Their main gripe was that we lodged at the facility owned by their competitor, and that they had been aware of our plans to cheat,” he states.

Sedimo states he then made the decision on the spot to stop elections and duly informed NEB on its WhatsApp group of his decision. He states his fear was that if they continued with primary elections then violence might erupt, something which would give the party a bad image.

“I asked the people there to let us go and they refused, especially Tlhopho Rakanyane. She unloaded the voting materials on the ground, insisting that it be taken from us, and when her colleagues became hesitant, she could not muster enough courage to go ahead with it. Her major concern was that elections were going to go on and that seemed to be her major fear. Moalosi then asked me to write down my decision of which I did. As I was writing under great duress, I did use the word 'conflict of interest’ wrongly instead of maybe ‘unethical'. I was frantically searched against my will, my belongings were taken and in the process I was robbed of P250,” he states.

He said the facility manager called the police as the group was unrelenting in their disorderliness. “I chose not to open a case of robbery, threat to kill and assault against these ’comrades'. I chose the party over my personal safety. The police then escorted us to the Lobatse Police Station from where we then departed to Molepolole,” he states.

In the aftermath of the chaotic scenes, Sedimo vehemently denied any wrongdoing, asserting his neutrality and commitment to upholding the integrity of the electoral process.

“Had I known before hand, I could have advised otherwise. But on the other hand, it couldn't have been right for comrades to idle without accommodation in a place they were not familiar with. The team comprised of six women and five men and it couldn't be expected that they be left on the streets without considering their safety. From my understanding of the BNF primary election regulations, it is not wrong for election officials to be accommodated by party colleagues. It has happened in the past years, and even up to this date it's still happening. Coming back to the facility at Pitsane, it's a public place where anyone has a right to use as long as they can afford it. If it was about fear that cheating may take place at the facility because it is owned by Mathokgwane, then that reasoning is shallow and flawed. My position on the matter is that the use of the facility though not unlawful may be viewed as unethical to some people. I take blame for that,” he states.

Sedimo further submits that Jacobs and the constituency committee never wanted the elections to continue as far as he is concerned. He said they made up the cheating story to cover up for their weakness if any. “The fact that they were the ones who were supposed to prepare accommodation for our team and later somersaulted on the promise, was a clear give away that they did not want us in Lobatse. From where I stand, the actions of the above mentioned people were totally unacceptable and unwarranted as there is a way of lodging complaints if at all there is need,” he stated.

Addressing a BNF press conference this week, party secretary-general, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, indicated that some Lobatse party members chose to dramatise the Lobatse incident.

"The irregularity or what happened is that the constituency had failed to organise accommodations for election officers and one of the candidates offered accommodation to them. The elections were postponed for that effect because it is not allowed in election process, therefore, the electoral board will be forced to conduct elections at Lobatse. It would not assign other people like before and proper accommodation arrangements will be made," explained Motshegwa.

Editor's Comment
Women in Politics caucus NGO, a welcome development

In the 2014 General Election, women who stood for parliamentary elections were a mere 17 out of a total of 192 aspirants, and sadly the number dropped to 11 out of 210 parliamentary aspirants in the 2019 General Election. Hopefully, registration of the Women in Politics Caucus will give women the necessary support to join politics. While things were slowly improving, women for a long time were at the receiving end as compared to their male...

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