Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), an offshoot of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) continues to make major inroads in the Central District leading to its ambitious dream of diametrically annihilating the BDP from its former stronghold. Defections of incumbent and former ruling party civic leaders in particular, continue unabated and this apparently has reduced the once BDP-dominated Serowe Administrative Authority in particular to a shadow of itself. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE writes
FRANCISTOWN: In the 2019 general election, the BPF cracked the hub of the BDP, being the headquarters of the vast GammaNgwato area, which has been unshakeable as the party’s traditional stronghold since the first elections in 1966, running away with the three constituencies in Serowe.
The party that was formed during the 2019 general election year could not fulfill its primary mission of literally unseating the ruling party from power. It was the wish of its founding patron, Khama and its founding president formerly BDP MP Biggie Butale to use the BPF as a vehicle to change government. At best, the party has changed the way of doing political business in the vast Central District Council (CDC).
Across the entire CDC, the opposition numbers have ballooned for the first time ever to about 65 councillors.
From the BPF formative days, Khama dreamt of unseating the BDP-led government which he was part of its executive for 20 years after his fall out with his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
The BDP leadership can only ignore the continued defections at its own peril as more damage continues to be done to the party’s influence. As of now, the complexion of debate has been altered at the Serowe Administrative Authority where, both the BDP and the BPF have a tie of 12 civic leaders apiece as a result of the defections.
The defections have apparently drowned the strong voice of the BDP, which dominated the CDC for decades until the advent of the BPF formation and participation in the political landscape.
From the 2019 general election, the BPF was a busy party with its unending recruitments that saw a surge in its number of seating civic leaders from its 16 elected councillors to now 20. Former BDP councillors and former party operatives have been drifting to the BPF. Recently, opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) councillor for Khurumela, George Makhura joined the BPF. For the first time in history, the influence of the ruling BDP in the Serowe Administrative Authority has been reduced by a huge margin with both the BDP and the BPF sharing the spoils.
The BPF has not only unseated the BDP in its traditional constituencies in the three Serowe seats but the new kid on the political block has also made several assists in areas like Mahalapye, Tswapong, Bobirwa and others which were for a long time winnable but difficult for the opposition victory.
BPF spokesperson, Justice Motlhabane is adamant that his party is determined to live up to its expectation and complete its take over of the vast CDC.
His party he said was pushing its agenda of social inclusion and empowerment of the womenfolk in politics. To him, the journey goes on, to win the hearts and minds of the people beyond the CDC as “our policy and goals speak for themselves.”
University of Botswana (UB) lecturer in political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi said there are various reasons for defections from one political party to another.
Regarding the massive defections from the BDP to the newly formed BPF, he discerns political opportunism; personal interests; lack of internal party democracy; political mobilisation by the BPF; and preemption of the amendment to the constitution to outlaw defection of politicians holding office.
“Politicians are opportunistic by nature and see the future in the CDC in the BPF rather than the BDP. The Khama (Ian) factor in the BPF attracts many people in the Central region. The vilification of Khama by the BDP attracts the ordinary people to the BPF,” posits the UB lecturer. He adds that personal interests cannot be ruled out, as the BPF is becoming a household name in the Central District, particularly villages in the Serowe environs.
He stresses that the BDP leadership has eroded internal party democracy in the BDP.
Mfundisi believes that members of the party perceive the leadership as “autocratic and unresponsive to the needs, interests, and priorities of the citizenry. “
BDP structures in the Central District have collapsed and therefore, vulnerable to BPF political onslaught. Intensive and extensive political mobilisation by the BPF leadership is rocking the BDP boat.
“Masisi is extremely unpopular in the Central District if not in the northern part of the country. The envisaged anti - defection law mooted by the BDP motivates politicians to defect with the objective of preempting the impending legislation,” says the UB lecturer.
In Mfundisi’s observation, since its inception, the BPF has taken the CDC by storm defeating the BDP in all Serowe constituencies and winning sizeable number of council seats.
He stresses that the BDP has been dealt a fatal blow in the northern part of the country. To him, the BPF has played a critical role dislodging the BDP from the Central region.
Other opposition forces, particularly the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was instrumental in leading the onslaught on the BDP hitherto heartland. The damage to the BDP, buttresses Mfundisi, “ is irreparable and come 2024 it may be politically annihilated from the northern region by the combined forces of the opposition.”
He hails the Khama factor to have played a significant contribution to the growth of the BPF.
He noted that the government’s continued attack and harassment of Khama further cemented the BPF support base.
Another factor that he attributes to the strength of the BPF is that the BDP structures toward elections were in disarray and hence the smooth mobilization by the BPF in the CDC.
He warns: “If the momentum continues unabated, the BDP will be dethroned from the CDC and that will be the beginning of the end of the BDP in the region. The BDP is very unpopular north of Dibete and its unattractiveness will lead to its downfall.
He is of the view that the BDP, on the outside, pretends not to be bothered by massive defection from its ranks. But, internally, the leadership is worried by the trends.
“Take, statement by its youthful leader Lesang Magang as an example. He bemoans the defections and wants decisive actions to mitigate the damage inflicted on the party. These defections are damaging the integrity of the BDP,” analysed Mfundisi.
The televised Parliamentary proceedings Mfundisi says are further showing the weaknesses of the BDP legislators. This may even lead to more defections elsewhere as people lose confidence on the leadership of the BDP.
The UB lecturer was worried that the party has no working structures in the CDC. And its continued harassment of Khama is damaging its attractiveness to voters.
Another UB academic and senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao says as chief of the Bangwato, Khama carries influence in the Central District. Therefore, defections from BDP to BPF in the Central are to be expected, as some people are bound to align with and support their chief’s party.
He indicates that the BPF is not necessarily more appealing than the BDP, “the defectors are just following and sympathising with their chief. In fact, the BPF is nothing, but a tribal pressure group.”
He however, concurs that if the BDP does nothing to reverse the tide, it will be weakened in the CDC.
“It is important to note that even the other opposition parties will suffer heavily in the CDC, as their members will also join Khama’s BPF,” he observed.
He acknowledged that for now, it doesn’t look like the BDP is doing enough to reverse the BPF gains in the CDC.
Perhaps the BDP is comfortable that even within the CDC, it can still win power, as Khama’s influence is limited just to the Central District where he is a chief.