Former senior Cabinet Minister Patrick Balopi has withdrawn from the race for the chairmanship of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
He has thrown his weight behind Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.
Speaking to the Sunday Standard, Balopi said he is now convinced that Venson-Moitoi will give the party sufficient time and guidance ahead of General Elections due late next year.
The latest development in what promises to be a political rollercoaster ahead of BDP Congress in Maun next month is a result of a meeting between the two at which Venson assured Balopi that she will “offload and give the party sufficient time.”
Venson is also the Minister of Education, a cabinet executive portfolio considered to be the most difficult and most demanding, not only because of deteriorating school results but also long running season of a tempestuous relationship between government and education sector trade unions.
“I have accepted her assurances that she will commit time to the party,” said Balopi.
A BDP veteran who joined that party in 1964, Balopi said he has been pained by the split that happened in the party a few years ago which resulted in the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy.
Interestingly, at the heart of the split was one, Samson Moyo Guma, who went on to become the first Treasurer General of the BMD.
Now back in the BDP, Guma will be wrestling for the ruling party chair against Venson-Moitoi.
Balopi flatly refuses to discuss Guma, instead choosing to be philosophical.
“We’ve been talking about giving positions of power to women. The African Union has set this year aside as the year of women. We need to give them the opportunity to lead. Those are the conditions I have applied myself on. Other than that, it is not a secret that elections are often a source of instability. If we can accommodate one another, the greater will be our chance of achieving greater stability.”
While critics have said Balopi has had his time, and that he has long announced his retirement from active politics, the veteran politician says his retirement was never a resignation from the BDP. And that if he is convinced that the party needs him, he would never hesitate to give a helping hand.
“Even after my voluntary retirement, I was always on the lookout for anything that could derail the BDP.”
He points out that he has never campaigned to become BDP chairman, but rather was approached by some party members who said they had concerns.
“They asked me to serve. And for the sake of the party I offered myself. But now that I have received assurances from Ms Venson that she will provide the necessary leadership I have decided to withdraw. I want to emphasise that I have received a lot of assurances from her,” said Balopi.
For her part Venson-Moitoi said she is immensely grateful for an opportunity extended to her by Balopi. “And I will not disappoint.”
Her assessment of the situation is that the BDP needs to have in place procedures and rules. She said she is best qualified to establish those procedures.
While there have been concerns that her workload at the ministry may force her to sacrifice party work, she is adamant that will not happen.
“My ministry work has now been streamlined. It’s a question of coordination. As long as I have knowledgeable people on the ground I can cope. That is what I want to do also at the party,” she said.
Her ambition, she said, is to have more women elected to the BDP Central Committee.
“Procedures are what make BDP who we are. We need to document those rules and procedures. Currently the procedures are through a word of mouth,” said Venson-Moitoi.
Does she have enough resources to match her opponent who the media likes to say is a wealthy businessman?
“If we say campaign is about resources then we will never get good people. Do we reject a potentially good councillor simply because they do not have a car? That is a question that the BDP has to answer. I have BDP Deputy Secretary General without any resources. People voted me because of the expectations they had on me,” said Venson-Moitoi.
When contacted Moyo Guma could only say he has all the respect for the other contenders standing against him.
The important thing, he said, is that the party has to emerge the winner.
“There will be no loser. It is what people do for the party that will matter,” said Moyo Guma.
The truth though is that the diplomatic public talk belies the true nature of behind the scenes campaign for control of the heart and soul of the BDP.
Underneath all the public niceties, foot soldiers are constantly reminded that the choice between Venson-Moitoi and Guma boils down to trust.