A recent truth and reconciliation conference by the Botswana People Party has revealed that a lot of their problems and internal strife started after their association with the Botswana Alliance Movement. While most of the members in the BPP are not against opposition cooperation they instantly become hostile when BAM is mentioned as a potential cooperation partner.
The relationship between the BAM and BPP dates back to the 1999 general elections which the BPP competed under an umbrella body of three other political parties: Independence Freedom Party, Botswana Progressive Union and the United Action Party all of them aptly named Botswana Alliance Movement.
BAM fielded 19 parliamentary hopefuls during the elections but went on to put up a dismal showing after which the BPP pulled out of the alliance.
”We had not only lost our party symbol, the five pronged star on a yellow background, but we had also lost many of our leaders and members who defected to BAM,” reminisces BPP President Bernard Balikani.
Relations between the BPP and BAM deteriorated and a bruising court case ensued in 2001 during which the BPP wanted the court to order the BAM to desist from using the BPP symbol. BAM defiantly continued to use the BPP’s five pronged black star and the yellow background, and BPP complained that they were unable to participate in bye-elections because the IEC could not reinstate the BPP name and symbol into ballot papers.
BAM stood its ground saying that its symbol was different from that of the BPP and it was duly registered with the registrar of societies as a BAM logo.
But the High Court ruled in favour of BPP in March 2002 and BAM, the IEC and the Registrar of Societies lost with costs. But it had been a bruising battle and the BPP had emerged badly scarred as the court case had drained the party’s coffers even to the extent of forcing the leadership to divert funds meant for the construction of the party headquarters towards meeting the legal costs of the case.
Though the bruised and badly scarred BPP limped away from the battle with BAM as the victor they found themselves faced with the insurmountable task of preparing for the 2004 general elections. The court case had taken most of their time and sapped a lot of their energies and it came as no surprise when, once again, the BPP entered into a pact with the Botswana National Front. But things came to a head when BAM once again came into the picture, entering the talks in Palapye in the run up to the 2004 general elections.
While a significant number of BPP members, especially those who had been with the party for a long time, took exception to the introduction of BAM to the talks, BNF insisted on its inclusion.
BPP members put their foot down and told the leadership in no uncertain terms that they would not sanction any pact that involved BAM. The members still had fresh memories of the ordeal that they had gone through because of BAM and bitter a taste lingered in their mouths after the scarring legal battle with BAM hardly a year ago and they were in no way ready to enter into any negotiations with the party.
On the other hand, Balikani, a progressive young leader who had taken over from Motlatsi Molapisi and was evidently on a mission to bring a new perspective to the party, felt that in politics grudges had to be shoved aside when necessary as adversaries could work together towards defeating a common enemy.
Balikani’s leadership was of the view that the BPP could negotiate with any political organization in the spirit of opposition cooperation regardless of history and personal grudges. This irked some conservative members of the party who accused his leadership of sleeping with the enemy.
An extra-ordinary conference was convened in Ramokgwebane in March 2004 at which the leadership was seeking the mandate from the general membership for them to continue negotiations with BNF and BAM. They were given a go ahead by the membership.
But the refusal by Balikani to listen to the advice of the old timers and his insistence to continue cooperating with BAM despite their bleak history did not go down well with some party members. Influential BPP members lay down their tools in protest against the leadership’s continued disregard of their advice. They desisted from taking any active role in party activities and party structures crumbled. Balikani’s embattled executive struggled to launch an effective contest for the elections while at the same time reviving comatose party structures.
BPP’s woes continued even after the 2004 elections as party structures continued to crumble and the party was losing key members to other political organizations. At some point it looked like Balikani and Secretary General Edward Mpoloka were the only active members of the party. Clearly something needed to be done.
At the party’s annual delegate’s conference in Tsamaya earlier this year where the party’s divisions were once again brought to the fore, the leadership went into some serious introspection and decided that a truth and reconciliation conference was needed if the party was to effectively deal with the woes that have befallen them.
They met in Francistown last week and resolved that they would not enter into talks with any political party until after the 2009 general elections. Balikani revealed in his speech that BPP has not contested general elections alone since 1994.
”In this country, and indeed in other countries, as well, a political party’s relevance to contemporary politics is measured by its strength at the polls. It is this strength that is employed at the negotiating table when we sit down to discuss how to work with other political parties. Maybe time is now that BPP should test its popularity and indeed its relevance to Botswana’s politics by contesting the general elections alone,” said Balikani.
All members also pledged to work tirelessly for the party unity and the central committee was tasked with reviving all party structures in the country in preparation for the coming general elections.