A reluctant rebel
by Oliver Modise
Before Gomolemo Motswaledi was suspended from his position as Secretary General of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’, Ndaba Gaolathe was a little known campaign chairman in the parliamentary candidate’s campaign team.
Beyond a family name that linked him to one of the country’s most illustrious public figures, few outside Botswana’s financial and banking circle had ever heard of Ndaba Gaolathe.
But ever since Motswaledi’s suspension, Ndaba’s stature as a shrewd strategist with an original mind has been all that those in the behind the scenes planning are talking about.
Beyond that, his writings also paint a picture of a young man with a versatile and radical mind who somehow found himself inside a staunchly conservative party.
Clearly a man ahead of his time, Ndaba was the first to condemn Motswaledi’s suspension. This was at a time when everyone else was mumbling and muttering, too afraid to question the authority behind the hand that signed Motswaledi’s letter of suspension and his ultimate fate into political wilderness.
To everyone’s shock, Ndaba stated in clear terms in a lengthy letter published in a mid-week paper that he did not recognise Motswaledi’s suspension.
Prior to that, he was the first, and probably the only BDP member to speak against the brutal killing of John Kalafatis.
Who really is this Ndaba Gaolathe?
Born in September 1972, Ndaba is the son of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolathe. He is a graduate of George Washington University where he obtained two Bachelor’s degrees, one in mathematics and the other in economics.
A graduate from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Ndaba comes across as an unwilling politician who prefers to stay behind the scenes.
“Don’t forget that my family is well represented in the public space. There is no need for me to be on the news,” implying that he will not compete for media attention with his father; a former Permanent Secretary, a former Debswana MD, Former Bank of Botswana Governor and BDC’s longest serving board member.
When Motswaledi lost his first High Court case that challenged his suspension as secretary general of the BDP, Gaolathe was one of those who persuaded him to appeal insisting that theirs was not a war on individuals.
Taking the stage before Motswaledi at a press organised to thank the nation for their support and give reasons behind the appeal, Ndaba said the decision to appeal was a challenge on decisions that contravened the spirit of the BDP’s traditions.
Throughout the case he stood by Motswaledi, insisting to anybody who would listen that at issue was not Motswaledi but the ideals of democracy and fairness on which Botswana was founded.
Ndaba was shocked by the harsh treatment the BDP was meting on his friend. In fact this was not the BDP that he had joined.
“The fear of backlash from some in our own party or the fear of further punishment should not cause us to abandon the ideals that attracted us to the BDP. Fairness, integrity, firmness, collective democracy, truth and service are some of the ideals that we have promised to uphold and continue to uphold.”
When many friends and erstwhile factional buddies were too afraid to stand next to Motswaledi, Ndaba stood firm and publicly endorsed Motswaledi’s right to appeal.
“To throw away our stand would amount to the abandonment of our core values. We will have given up what we can become, as a people.”
Though firm and one may say defiant, he preached discipline to those who sypathised with Motswaledi’s cause.
“Ours is not a war on individuals,” he insisted.
“It is a direct and fair challenge on decisions we believe contravene the spirit of our democratic tradition. It is not a disrespect for our leadership; it is the honouring of the teachings of our elders. It is not empty defiance; it is a stand on the firm foundations that form the promise of an uplifting future for generations to come. It is not a selfish quest to thrust a colleague onto the corridors of power; it is a patient faith in which our colleague and candidate is aware he may lose both the case and the opportunity to serve in parliament. It is not an abandonment of the ways our great movement, the BDP; it is a revival of the high vows of our part.”
While many were tempted to throw stones at the judiciary for dismissing Motswaledi’s case, Ndaba called for restraint.
“We lost the first case but we must not impugn the integrity of our judiciary – they are learned, experienced and wise old men and women that deserve our respect. Our values mean we cannot allow resentment and bitterness to corrode the force of our good intents. We will not lose hope. We do not see ourselves as victims but as stewards. We will not tire, because all that is right will outlast even the mountains. And we will not mourn in defeat, or be triumphalist in victory.”
Always wearing a contemplative face, he was neither smiling nor frustrated when the Court of Appeal also dismissed Motswaledi’s application.
To him such events were a precursor to “winds of change.”
“I don’t think nor believe that my friend has struggled against the President nor the constitution of Botswana. Neither of us has seen the unfolding of this matter in those terms, but that is a matter that deserves to be treated on its own on another day.”
He however does not hide his disappointment at the unfairness with which Motswaledi has been treated. He does not say by who.
“What pained me, of course, was to see a young luminary portrayed in ways other than in terms of the talent, character and hope that he represents.”
In what could be warning to those who think Motswaledi is finished, Ndaba insists Motswaledi’s loss at the courts and subsequent failure to run for parliament does not mean his political career is over.
“Holding a position in the BDP or in party politics has never been a driving force behind Motswaledi’s vision. His aspiration is to serve, like a true servant, the people of Botswana on or out of an office platform. His future, that of potential service to the people of Botswana has escalated in its glow.”
But what informs Ndaba’s character.
He says he looks at himself as a graduate of his parents’ teachings.
“They gave lessons, not by words, but by their life and ways; humility, fairness, diligence, faith, moral soundness, focus, tenacity, patience, honesty and sense of purpose,” says the young Gaolathe.
That is perhaps why he is worried that the spirit of selflessness that used to exist among Batswana is dying. He says despite that, he still believes that the youth have the potential to lift the banner higher.
“Self-discipline and self-belief remain gaps that we need to work on to realise our full potential as a generation, both of which are within reach,” he says.
Other than his involvement in politics, Gaolathe comes across as a man who believes in imparting knowledge to the youth.
“I have done community service everywhere I have been. I organised classes in general knowledge, life skills and mathematics. I am planning to institutionalise the community service format and replicate it in other parts of Botswana.”
He says he believes in building strong institutions in the economic, political and public arena.
He is self employed and he specialises in strategy and financial structural work in Johannesburg from where he commutes every weekend to attend BDP political activities.