Pelonomi and Mokgweetsi fought their battles but none won the war

12 Apr 2019

By Adam Phetlhe

If only the President of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi had genuinely recognised that Hon Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi had the unconditional right like himself to stand for the presidency of the party by not putting all obstacles imaginable to thwart her challenge, the BDP would have won the war. The battles were fought from the premise that the President felt, much as he still does, that Hon Venson-Moitoi was Lt Gen Ian Khama’s proxy with whom he has had an acrimonious standoff while the latter felt, much as she still does, that there was a concerted effort to frustrate her from contesting. The war I am referring to here is the absolute unity and cohesion of the BDP to campaign for the October general election and beyond. And that war would have been won in the sense that the party would be much closer because the winner would have been decided by a process not tainted by self-created irregularities borne out of conveniently interpreting the party Constitution to suit a particular and desired outcome.

The recent court case lodged by Hon Venson-Moitoi would have not ensued had the issues she raised like whether the Councillors and Members of Parliament could endorse her were internally and objectively dealt with in the spirit of camaraderie. The BDP went to Kang for its elective presidential congress as a divided party and returns therefrom I am afraid, still a divided party. Even if Hon Venson-Moitoi had entered the race and won, the party would still be divided along factional lines because President Masisi’s faction wouldn’t have been happy with her victory because in their eyes and to their belief, such victory would almost if not all, guarantee the return of Lt Gen Khama. It would also guarantee that the older is certain to be reinstated with all that characterised it.

Realising that his victory may after all be hollow owing to the palpable polarization currently consuming the party as it did before the congress, the President is reportedly seeking an audience with Hon Venson-Moitoi presumably to mend fences and move along with each other towards the general election. But after such immediate humiliation and hurt she has endured under the President’s watch and probably with his endorsement, is it reasonably expected (not that it is a bad idea) that such audience could be the immediate priority of Hon Venson-Moitoi. They say once beaten twice shy. For me, it is too soon to try to engage her where perhaps, some cool off period is desirable. I regard the immediate call to dialogue as a sign of triumphalism on the President’s corner. This is not made any better by the comments of the BDP Chairman as captured by the story in the Sunday Standard (April 7-13 2019) titled ‘Slumber wakes up to taunt opponents’. Under the prevailing circumstances and now that the congress is over, it is important that the victors in the form of senior party leaders like the Chairman tone down on comments with the potential of furthering the divisions in the party.

There is fear for those who supported her particularly those whose names appeared in the list of 50 that was reduced by 26, that they could be in the frying pan. It should be remembered that there have been vocal voices calling for the purging of those who were regarded as anti the President. This could be the moment they have been waiting for. If this is the case, the war would far from been won. There were reports before the congress that some BDP MPs who are anti the President could resign from the BDP to collapse its majority in parliament. Such reports quote some of those MPs albeit unanimously confirming this possibility in the event Hon Venson-Moitoi is not the President of the BDP. Now that she is not the President, that possibility could be alive. Some of these could be in the list referred to above who could feel they have nothing to lose because they are already the ‘bad boys’ of the BDP. Given the hard stance the party hierarchy is likely to take against the ‘renegades’ in the lead up to the congress, attitudes would  further be hardened with failure to win the war rendered even more precarious. A motion of no confidence on the President has been suggested by the anti Masisi brigade which given the political atmosphere in the BDP pre the congress, couldn’t be far-fetched. One could argue that this could still be a possibility had Hon Venson-Moitoi contested and won.

Smarting from a polarising bulela ditswe primary elections) process whose characteristics were similar to the events leading to the presidential elections, I would have expected the BDP to seize the presidential election moment to redeem itself from the bulela ditswe bad episodes. The fact that the campaign modus operandi between the President and Hon Venson-Moitoi was skewed in favour of the former as was with the bulela ditswe aggrieved contestants, suggested in many respects that the memories of the past bulela ditswe were quickly evoked thereby making it difficult to think that the party has turned a new leaf. Somebody asked me rhetorically: if the BDP can cheat its own members by manipulating its Constitution, is there any hope that the party will be stable anytime soon. Because the question was rhetoric, you can guess what my silent answer was.

Given the intense and intriguing battles between Hon Venson-Moitoi and His Excellency the President, I would have liked the contest to end in an election. But it was unfortunately never to be. Just like President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing a stiff fight back from the ANC members who were aligned to former President Jacob Zuma, President Masisi faces a similar fight back from within the BDP by members who are aligned to Lt Gen Khama and by extension, Hon Venson-Moitoi. The battle for the soul of the BDP is far from over and it looks set to continue in the foreseeable future or beyond. In the interim, peace and tranquillity look set to evade it from which we await a good spectacle of a political movie we have never seen before. Or it isn’t. The political atmosphere and temperature in the BDP should in the coming days, weeks and months indicate what is in store for us. That said, the war still requires army generals of repute to win it. Nothing suggests for now that while still trying to recover from the humiliation and hurt engineered by her own party, Hon Venson-Moitoi is ready to let bygones be bygones. And this makes winning the war even harder as indicated above. Judge for Yourself!