The day Khama told them "Voetsek!"

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No word could be a better fit for the response that President Ian Khama and the BDP central committee gave to the party's faction of Barata-Phathi, following their decision to bolt from the ruling party than the Afrikaans word 'voetsek!'

Literally "tie your feet up!", and "stop following me!" or even 'get lost!'.  The decision is an expression of the feeling of the BDP central committee and party president following the announcement to form a new party by the faction, and after the faction served the president with a list of demands. The central committee found the demands  simply 'untenable' and 'outrageous' and refused to meet any of them. If the Barata-Phathi had hoped that Khama and the central committee would even have the slightest intention to meet with them, then they were dead wrong. The central committee was actually incensed that this group of 'dissidents' dared to meet even after the committee issued a warning that the meeting they were planning to hold on Saturday at the Big Five Lodge in Mogoditshane was illegal as "it fell outside the institutional framework of the Party Structures, and was not sanctioned by the party constitution". So the party leadership resolved to tell the faction "voetsek!"

"The central committee has therefore resolved that organisers of the new breakaway party and the convenors of the so-called Barata-Phathi meeting who took part in the unlawful assembly held last Saturday in Mogoditshane, which includes six sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) should surrender their BDP membership cards within 48 hours to the main party office in Gaborone," the central committee says in a statement issued following a crisis meeting it held on Saturday and on Monday. BDP spokesperson  Comma Serema told a local radio station yesterday morning that even those 'who made tea' and any sympathisers who are BDP members who attended the faction meeting should heed the instruction, as failing to do so will lead the BDP to conclude that such people remain members of the party and are therefore subject to the party and its disciplinary authority.

"This is to allow democrats an opportunity to make a decision on whether they want to be with the party or to join the new party," said Comma Serema.

With sharply contested values among members within the BDP, it remains to be seen how deep the split in the party will go, and therefore the extent to which the party will be weakened. Theirs is a situation where the old meets the new, with the A-team determined to keep values of the past and Barata-Phathi asking for a modern democratic institution. As often happens, when old ideologies meet new ones, there is a conflict. In the case of the BDP the conflict was brought to a crisis point by the A-team's manipulation of public media, namely Broadcasting and Information Services where, while the Barata-Phathi were muzzled. The A-Team freely used the resources to push its agenda, as the problems within the party spiraled into the crisis that landed in the lap of the central committee last Friday, sending them into a panic whereupon they hastily prepared a statement warning people to stay away from the meeting.

The manipulation of the public media appeared to continue even after the split as, pretty much like before, only the version of the central committee - a position clearly held by the A-team is what was disseminated. The dissatisfaction of members remained "bottled up" until they finally burst to form a new party. Indeed they had other options such as to join an existing political party but decided to form a new one.

The central committee's non-conciliatory attitude, is consistent with its decisions over the last several months, say analysts. More importantly it is reflective of the leadership's determination to stick to its guns: "If you're in my house you live by my rules or get out!"

This attitude is fatalistic says Political Science don, David Sebudubudu.
"The BDP is a democratic movement with democratic values and should be prepared to bargain and be accommodative. Being dismissive gives the impression that the leadership is not prepared to listen." Also given is the impression that the party leadership is superior and that no one should disagree with it. So anyone who disagrees should not try to make the mistake that the faction did.

"The BDP should know that its failure to respect difference of opinion will bring a lot of trouble - instability and division within the party," says Sebudubudu.

History is replete with examples of what intolerance, as shown by the BDP, can do to a party right from the time of USSR's Stalin and to the time of  Dr Kenneth Koma's BNF.

Once the late leader of the Botswana National Front (BNF) Koma told party kith and kin that those who disagreed with him should go and form their own party.

The ultimate result was the formation of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), now quickly establishing itself as a trusted alternative to the BNF. Unlike its progenitor, the BCP appears to be solidly united, respecting divergent views of its members.

So as it is said, "if you make a bed you must be prepared to lie on it", the BNF finds itself languishing on its badly made bed, sick, to perhaps eventually die. For when a child becomes more relevant than his father, the father needs to recede and take a break from the challenging games that his son plays with his peers. This is reality, even fate, and the BDP cannot avoid it.

"The difference between the BNF and the BDP is that the BDP is in power. A political party is a public institution and should be run in the interests of the public," says Sebudubudu. As a democratic public institution, the party must reflect the democratic ideals that it desires for the country.

He says again, "if a leader is not committed to being democratic then the country itself cannot be democratic." Democratic institutions, he says, need to consistently renew themselves and their thinking to keep up with the times or face serious problems as happened with the BDP and the BNF.

Another university don, Log Raditlhokwa concurs: "Factional fighting within the BDP has reached a high point and the Barata-Phathi, having realised they cannot bring their influence to bear upon the leadership, decided to form a new party with a culture of democracy that they ascribe to."

The decision by the BDP is ill-thought as the party appears not to have given itself enough time to think through the implications, he says. Most importantly is the need for people to appreciate the fact that the democratic dispensation that the new party is lobbying for what BDP members and people outside the party are calling for, he says.

"These people have come to realise that the country is bigger than the party and their type of sacrifice should be encouraged," he concludes.

The Barata-Phathi and those sympathetic to them have been given an ultimatum to surrender their BDP membership cards or else they will be treated as BDP members and therefore subject to the party's disciplinary process. Even as they repeatedly said last Saturday, members of the faction knew even before they submitted their demands to President Khama that none of the demands would be met. They also knew that they have no political home or future in the BDP.

As Carl Marx once said," every democratic institution is pregnant with the seed of its own destruction." The BDP seed has finally broken from its sheath. Will what sprouts be what Batswana are looking for?


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