Masisi’s tactics ruffle feathers


FRANCISTOWN: Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s handlers will have to act with extra caution if they want their man to remain relevant in the race for the chairmanship of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

It should not appear like Masisi is being imposed on the party as that may spark ugly resistance from voters who are already spoiled for choice in a crowded race. It is not in dispute that Masisi’s campaign team, which is apparently championed by businessman-cum-politician, Samson Moyo Guma, has started on the wrong foot. The team has already ruffled many feathers in the party ever since Masisi announced his candidature. This could potentially work against the Vice President.

Masisi recently denied reports that it was Guma who moved him to join the race. Other contenders and their supporters are already grumbling that the playing field is not level as Masisi appears favoured. The Vice President’s opponents for the coveted seat are Botswana’s former envoy to the US Tebelelo Seretse, former cabinet minister Ramadeluka Seretse, MP Biggie Butale, former civic leader Dithapelo Tshotego, Seteng Motalaote and businessman-cum-politician Moemedi Dijeng.

The race changed drastically, on May 3 when Masisi addressed a factional meeting of the Francistown BCP region at the Adansonia Hotel. This was a meeting where mainly party members loyal to Masisi took the opportunity to strategise away from the public glare. Sensing that there would be opposition of some sort from those supporting rival candidates, the region invited factional loyalists only when the Masisi campaign was launched at the Adansonia Hotel.

There is hue and cry already in the Francistown region, where some are irked by the use of the party structures by a faction to campaign for one team instead of serving the interests of all without bias. Masisi made things worse by making comments, perhaps in jest that suggested that he is suitable for the post because of the ease with which he can use state resources to campaign. “Ke ne ke re ke tsamaya ka baesekele yame mme ka jaana ke na le BX e e tsamayang lefatshe lotlhe ka dirisa yone. Fa go le thata ke dirisa sefofane sa thootomo. Nthomang ke maoto a a bofefo. (I wanted to use my personal motor vehicle to come here. But, because there is the official vehicle, which can cover the length and breath of this country, I am using it. Alternatively, I can resort to the use of the helicopter. Trust me with the position of chairperson,” he said. One of the organisers of the Masisi launch meeting, Neo Gabalebatse, deputy secretary of the Francistown region, rubbished claims that non-Masisi supporters were sidelined. Gabalebatse downplays accusations of staging a campaign meeting claiming that “speakers were handpicked from the floor”.

Masisi, who was the cynosure of all eyes at the event denied the meeting was stage-managed. “Those who are saying the Adansonia meeting was stage-managed are not telling the truth,” he told Mmegi recently.

Gabalebatse and Masisi’s comments are far from convincing, at least to irate party members who accuse the Francistown region of pampering  the VP at the expense of other candidates. At least in Francistown, daggers are drawn and the anti-Masisi campaign is in full swing to counter the effects of the Adansonia meeting.

On May 4, President Ian Khama gave Masisi a campaigning platform at an impromptu party meeting in Palapye meant to foster cooperation between councillors and MPs.

Reports from Palapye show that Khama used the forum to endorse Masisi. At the meeting, Khama’s younger brother and cabinet minister, Tshekedi indicated he had dropped out of the race after he was challenged to declare his stand by the President. Because Khama did not bother to engage with the other candidates at the meeting, they have been unhappy with what happened.

For example, Butale said that he and his supporters watched with disappointment as he was ignored as Masisi and Tshekedi were being asked by Khama if they would contest the chairmanship. BDP secretary general, Mpho Balopi who attended the recent Palapye meeting would later defend Khama’s action steadfastly holding that that the President did not endorse anyone.

“That is not an endorsement as you put it. The President was rather responding to a question posed by a party operative who wanted to know if indeed the media reports that Masisi was in the race while Tshekedi had opted out, were correct,” he said.

Over the weekend, the Central region, which was purported to be supporting Tshekedi before he stepped down, sparked another controversy when it allocated Masisi the lion’s share of talking time to campaign while others were given only five minutes.

The other candidates, Tebelelo, Ramadeluka and Butale cried foul about the time allocation at a meeting held at Masokola Primary School saying Masisi was given an unfair advantage.

“Party structures should not be seen to be campaigning for any candidate. It was the first time for me to see a party structure actively involved in the campaigns. That was improper for the regional committee and it set a bad precedence,” Tebelelo said this week.

Ramadeluka was not amused either. “I even told the regional chairman that it was very unfair. If the VP came for campaigns, then we all become candidates and our time should be equal. I was just not happy about it,” he said.

The explanation given by the central region chairman, Oboetswe Gabotlale was that Masisi had asked for more time and the request was granted. He quipped that: “Some of the candidates have been addressing councils, but they never had a problem with the fact that fellow candidates were not in attendance”.

Through party structures, Masisi’s handlers are able to use every available opportunity to campaign. They are even comfortable employing underhand tactics, which could be suicidal. There is a likelihood the contest may spark another bout of bitter factionalism in the BDP.

The last time the BDP was rocked by divisions in 2010, the party experienced its first split that gave birth to the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). The BMD formed a coalition with the Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) and won 17 seats with a 30 percent popular vote. For the first time since independence, the BDP garnered a popular vote below 50 percent at 46.50 percent.

From Tsholetsa House, the BDP headquarters, deputy executive secretary, Lee Lesetedi has acknowledged the complaints raised by Masisi’s rivals though he says no official protest has been received. “There is no official complaint about VP Masisi’s unfair use of the party structures in his campaigns,” said Lesetedi.

“When people campaign, they reach out to the structures of the party unless they (complainants) are saying the party structures deny them the chance to campaign,” he said.

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