UDCís Mathokgwane gambit


Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES explores the role played by James Mathokgwane in the Goodhope/Mabule by-election and concludes that the ruling party fell for a counterattack tactic similar to an ancient Chess strategy named King’s Gambit

Around 4pm on the Goodhope/Mabule by-election day, a group of journalists gathered outside Dinatshana Primary School polling station.

They had picked up a tip-off that James Mathokgwane, the man that caused the by-election after his mysterious and sudden resignation from Parliament and later controversially being appointed for a plum post at SPEDU, would be casting his vote there at 4pm. Mathokgwane was however late and journalists were growing impatient and doubting whether the SPEDU man would even bother coming. Interestingly, members of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the party that he successfully represented in the previous elections but later dumped the parliamentary seat, were the ones communicating with Mathokgwane and updating journalists about his whereabouts. They assured the media that he was surely on his way.

Mathokgwane’s ‘handlers’ told the waiting media that he was arriving from a work trip in the US that day. He was supposed to come straight from the airport to vote in the constituency that he had abandoned.

Jimaco, as they affectionately called him, arrived with a mini convoy together with other known UDC activists at Dinatshana polling station, just before sunset.

Addressing the media after voting, Mathokgwane responded to the question of “Who did you vote for?” with “I thought my vote was obvious!” Many thought it was a vague response and did not understand him.

But Mathokgwane’s answer should be understood in the context of what was happening on that day.

To the media at Dinatshana, the response made perfect sense because all along, the UDC cadres handled him; the media received updates about his whereabouts from the opposition party activists who formed a small gathering outside the polling station to welcome him.

So since he was a public officer and not allowed to be active in politics he decided to give a rather ambiguous but loaded response.

On social media, he was however receiving venom commentary. He was labelled as a traitor and a sell-out by clueless Moono activists. Many believed that he was bought out by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to betray Moono. They believed he voted for his financiers and was no good for the UDC.

Even the BDP were initially happy for Mathokgwane’s move unaware that they were falling for a well-orchestrated counter attack. The ruling party and its intelligence too were caught napping after thinking that they were home and dry with Mathokgwane out of the way. It was during BDP’s celebrations over Mathokgwane’s exit that he (Mathokgwane) produced a masterstroke tactic in Kgosi Letlamoreng II. 

It is a strategy similar to the Chess game’s classic King Gambit tactic and the BDP fell for it - in chess language, instead of declining the Gambit they accepted it. Gambit is a chess tactic in which a player sacrifies material with the hope of achieving an advantageous position.

UDC insiders have said that after Mathokgwane brought up his ‘personal problems’ the party strategised on a way forward.

“The party decision was never to let him quit Parliament. But he did anyway,” said one of the UDC officials.

Mathokgwane thought out the best win-win strategy for himself and the party. Those who are privy to details say he was the one that directed UDC president Duma Boko to Barolong’s paramount chief as the ideal candidate that would retain the constituency.

In the build up to the by-elections Boko revealed that they were given the name of the rightful man to represent the UDC in the absence of Mathokgwane.

“A name was brought up. We travelled at night to meet the man and told him, ‘Your time has arrived to lead your nation’,” said Boko.

Interestingly Boko also revealed that they found Lotlamoreng “ready and waiting for us and the challenge” to contest for a political seat under the Umbrella.

From Boko’s comment, it appears that the knock on Kgosi Lotlamoreng’s door happened before the Mathokgwane resignation bombshell.

The UDC leader further revealed that before the confusion engulfed UDC and Goodhope/Mabule constituency, they had already charted a way forward. They knew then that the constituency was still theirs.

Mathokgwane is said to be close friends to Lotlamoreng II. As a former party leader in the constituency, he knew Lotlamoreng’s allegiance to the Botswana National Front (BNF) better than anyone. So it does not require a rocket scientist to see his role in bringing in his friend to take over the constituency when he (Mathokgwane) was left with no option but to jump.

UDC foot soldiers in the constituency also confirmed that Mathokgwane did not just jump a sinking ship.

“He jumped because he felt it was better for him and the party to do so. But he gave us crucial assistance to retain the seat,” said one party insider from Pitsane. 

Before Mathokgwane jumped ship, he actually steered it in the right direction and shared the coordinates and ammunition for the troubled waters ahead, something that the BDP failed to counter.

Jimaco appeared in full spirits when he left the Dinatshana polling station because he knew that he had not betrayed their struggle. He was still the same ‘Nna ga kena stress’ Mathokgwane who addressed multitudes at Boko’s 2014 launch before the General Elections.

His King Gambit was successful. UDC trounced the BDP and retained the constituency with a much bigger margin.

They have restored confidence on their ‘Road To 2019’ and even brought Botswana Congress Party (BCP) much closer to opposition cooperation. President Ian Khama’s magic was tested and showed that it is waning.

The Mathokgwane’s Gambit even earned UDC a free councillor Lazarus Ncube who was the collateral damage of Goodhope/Mabule by-elections from the BDP. Just like in the Chess Gambit, the ruling party wasted time procuring the sacrificed material and it is now in a state of positional weakness in Botswana’s political chessboard.

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