James Pilane: the consummate politician


Remember James Pilane, that fiery Botswana National Front (BNF) Kgatleng West Member of Parliament (MP)? Well, come along for a little bavarder with the 75 year-old.

Having previously appointed with him by phone, I head for Mochudi’s Phalane Ward. The former legislator had said to simply ask for his mother’s house.

The midmorning temperature is surprisingly hot and I spot two women seated in the shadow of a tree. I ask them where I can find the Pilane homestead and they point to the next yard.

Unlike most former and current legislators’ abodes the buildings here are unassertive, which causes me to hesitate, thinking I must have entered the wrong yard.

But then I spot Pilane’s blue Mazda pickup. I recognise it as the bakkie that the former legislator used to drive around the village during his campaigns. That was back in 1994.

An old woman sits in the verandah of the house. “Dumela mma. Ke batla Rre James Pilane,” I explain my mission to the old woman in the vernacular.

All the while I am wondering if the old woman could be his wife. And how wrong I am, for she is the old politician’s 95-year old mother! How young she looks for her age!

She instructs me to check him at the back of the house. My eyes quickly scan the backyard and I decide he is not there. Back to the old woman.

Same instruction again. Then I spot him, but he is already on his way to where I am standing. He is walking with the aid of a cane, and is understandably wearing shorts only.

 “Ke gone o tlang?” It was both a question and a complaint that I was late. No, he cannot do an interview wearing shorts, he says. So he ducks into the house and comes back looking like a company shareholder about to get into a business meeting.

Ramoroko, as Pilane is popularly known, still relishes the fact he was the one who toppled former Education minister Ray Molomo from his post as area MP in 1994. It was sweet revenge as he had first contested the seat under the BNF ticket in 1989, but lost to Molomo. He appealed the election results.

“I remember I went to court and I was able to convince the judge the process had been flawed, hence I won my case against Molomo”, he says. The court ordered a rerun, which Pilane still lost, “But I was happy the court gave me the opportunity”.

He remembers, with a tinge of nostalgia, his days as BNF secretary general beginning 1990 through 1992, and his time in the central committee of Botswana’s strongest opposition party of the time.

Altogether there were 11 BNF members in Parliament, the party’s strongest showing since independence.

Leading the opposition brains was the late Dr Kenneth Shololo Koma, the late Maitshwarelo Dabs Dabutha, the late Paul “Ostrich” Rantao, Mokgweetsi Kgosipula, Vain Mamela, Gilson Saleshando, Sidwell Gabatshwane, Michael Dingake, Isaac Mabiletsa and the late Joseph Kavindama.

“We were a very tough lot and gave the BDP sleepless nights,” he recalls. And sleepless nights they were in fact.

“At one time we had parliament going on for the whole night. KK [Koma] had tabled a motion of no-confidence against the BDP!” he chuckles.

A flicker crosses his face when he talks about the rested politician, who is still held in high regard by many who embraced the BNF.

“It was KK who helped me get a scholarship to study economics in Russia where I also got my Masters’ Degree. That was between 1967 and 1972. KK wanted people who were eager to bring democracy to Botswana and arranged scholarships for them in Russia, where he also studied,” he said.

Between 1976 and 1978 he went to do another Masters’ Degree, this time in Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, USA. He also did short courses in the UK.

While an MP Pilane also registered for a long distance MBA programme with Heriot Watt Business School, Edinburg, Scotland, specialising in Marketing, Organisational Behaviour, Business Ethics and Strategic Planning among others. 

However owing to his busy schedule, he never sat the exam. But then he was studying merely for personal enrichment hence he purchased Steven Selbiger’s  “The Ten Day MBA” to master its theories.

As is typical of politics, the game gave Pilane no chance in the 2009 general elections. He lost to the BDP’s Rakwadi Modipane. But then it was easy to see why he lost.

The BNF had split in 1994, with the splinter group forming the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). He was part of the group that started the BCP and thus contested the 2009 elections under that party’s ticket. Either because Bakgatla were punishing him for eloping, or because there was now a vote split, Ramoroko lost his seat. However he remains a committed member of the BCP.

“I became a constituency chair after I lost, but now I operate only locally” he says. He believes it is time the BCP worked with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

“Before the 2014 elections, the atmosphere in the opposition was murky, you could say the time was not yet right, as some issues had to be clarified.

However the UDC has the appeal and we should reconsider our stance as the BCP,” he says.

He prefers the current Umbrella model to any, as each party remains an institution in its own right, but works for the common good.

Pilane says the idea of a pact is not new. “The idea of a United Front is not new. KK came up with the same idea.

The UDC put the same idea to good use and it is very imperative that we join because we are all fighting for the same thing - to strengthen democracy”, he says, assuming a more serious tone.

The old politician is all praises for the current opposition representation “whose debates are quite robust.” He is quick to mention the likes of Ndaba Gaolathe and Duma Boko as his favourites.

“These boys must not just be excited, but must bring back something akin to that 1994 parliament,” he says, a nostalgic look on his face.

 “As opposition we were powerful because we were united, although there was only 11 of us against 37 BDP MPs, who we gave a torrid time and held to account”.

Pilane is married to Cynthia, a lecturer at the University of Botswana. They have been blessed with three children.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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