Monday, September 28, 2020

Barataphathi at the cross roads

Barely a month after Gomolemo Motswaledi was banished from the ruling BDP for five years, the consequences of his battle and subsequent court case against the party leader, President Ian Khama, show no sign of abating.

In another tumultuous week for the strife-torn party, three members of the Central Committee closely allied to Motswaledi have tendered their resignations. So far, only ex-deputy secretary general Wynter Mmolotsi and additional members Guma Samson Moyo and Kabo Morwaeng have quit. The situation regarding other faction representatives such as Leach Tlhomelang, Neo Kelaotswe and youth chairman, Armstrong Dikgafela, is not known. The leader of the faction, who is also party chairman, Daniel Kwelagobe, has made it clear he is staying put. In fact, ever since the rumours started circulating, the BDP chairman has been actively calling media houses refuting speculation that he too is on his way out.

Mass resignations would result in a special congress as stipulated by the party constitution. It was at this congress where some Barataphathi members hoped their grievances regarding the marginalization of the Central Committee would be debated. For many of Motswaledi’s supporters in the party, the special congress would no doubt provide an opportunity for the issue of his banishment to be debated and, with numbers on their side, hopefully revoke his suspension on the basis that congress is the highest decision making organ of the party. The choice by other members of the faction, notably Kwelagobe, not to quit has now caused a major rift within Barataphathi ranks.

It would appear the Young Turks in Barataphathi think enough is not being done to support Motswaledi. With the numbers on their side they still failed to protect the ousted secretary general because the president made unilateral decisions by evoking his controversial powers. By resigning from the Central Committee, the trio of Mmolotsi, Morwaeng and Moyo want to absolve themselves from complicity in future decisions that might adversely affect their colleagues. An example is the notice given to the Central Committee by Khama that he has set up a team to investigate allegations that high ranking party members de-campaigned the party and colluded with the opposition ahead of the October elections. The identity of the investigation panel was not disclosed by the president nor by the executive Secretary, Dr Comma Sarema, when he was quizzed by state radio. Many Barataphathi see the panel as the beginning of a witch-hunt aimed at purging them from the party.

The split in the ranks of the faction came to the fore at the fateful Monday meeting when Thato Kwerepe ditched Baratapathi in order to contest the position of secretary general against Mmolotsi, who, as deputy SG, should have been the natural choice. The post fell vacant after Motswaledi’s suspension and, in terms of the party rules and regulations, an election had to take place within the affected organ to find a replacement. Though the faction claims it was lulled into an ambush because Khama had assured Central Committee members that a replacement would not be necessary until the 14-day appeal period for Motswaledi had elapsed, they nonetheless participated in the process.

Initially brought in as an additional member at Kanye because he came from the constituency of Barataphathi nemesis, Jacob Nkate, the new secretary general was reportedly wooed by Khama in a charm offensive that included jaunts on the presidential jet OK 1 at the height of the president’s battle with Motswaledi.
A careful evaluation of the factional dynamics reveals that having failed in his bid to have individuals of his choice voted into the party executive at Kanye, Khama identified some figures within the victorious faction to recruit to his side.
In the election to replace Motswaledi, Kwerepe, with the backing of Khama and the A Team, secured eight votes to Mmolotsi’s seven. Two members, being Tebelelo Seretse and Guma Moyo, were not in attendance.
Besides Kwerepe, another prominent person on the Barataphathi list in Kanye who is reported to have been successfully wooed by Khama is deputy treasurer, Kagiso Mmusi. Now running the party treasury with his business mentor, Satar Dada, he is said to be reveling in his new role as adviser to the president.
It is instructive that both Kwerepe and Mmusi, who have no support base of their own, never made a single appearance at the four court hearings involving Motswaledi. Keen BDP watchers are quick to point out that though the two men might have bailed out of Barataphathi, they have not necessarily defected to the A Team. On the contrary, they are part of what is known as the Third Force, a label given to individuals from both factions who have forsaken their comrades and now swear loyalty to the president due to self- interest and commercial considerations.

Sources in the BDP allege the widening rift could spell the end of the faction as constituted going to Kanye. In a sign that all is not well, various activists of the faction were cagey and did not wish to say much when asked about the state of cohesion in the group.
Perhaps, in a hint of a generational divide, some of the Young Turks this week seemed at odds with Kwelagobe, their factional patriarch. A long time Kwelagobe ally and Gaborone West South legislator, Botsalo Ntuane, conceded that “I have suffered intense vilification because of my support for the values and principles espoused by Rre Kwelagobe. My comrades and I have been cited as obstacles to peace and stability in the party; by withdrawing from issues concerning Rre Kwelagobe we could actually be helping not only ourselves but the party as well”.

Ntuane makes it clear that despite his sentiments, he retains the utmost respect for Kwelagobe.

Another lieutenant, Mmolotsi, expressed admiration for Kwelagobe and “has no regrets supporting our cause, but I am not sure if I will be available for DK in future because it is time I focused on my (Francistown South) constituency. I also need to give support to my friend Gomolemo as he tries to cope with his ordeal of the five-year suspension from the party”.

Mmolotsi was elected as deputy to Motswaledi at the Kanye congress in July.

This stance apparently stems from the school of opinion within the circle of Young Turks that when Kwelagobe is under fire he expects the entire collective to rally to his defence. On the other hand, he does not display the same zeal and commitment when others are similarly embattled. Motswaledi sympathizers are adamant he landed in trouble because he fought Kwelagobe’s wars. The suggestion by some of the Young Turks that they have done enough for Kwelagobe would come as something of a surprise to democrats who venture that now getting on in years, Kwelagobe’s strength is mainly derived from the youthful brigade that has always formed a protective wall around him.

By cooling their ties with Kwelagobe, the Young Turks are evidently coalescing around Motswaledi as they look to define their future political agenda. In fact, there are whispers, albeit unconfirmed, that without Kwelagobe, the Young Turks are mooting a plan to approach Khama with a peace proposal that would entail Motswaledi being pardoned. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but no overtures to the president can be done without the blessings of Motswaledi himself.

In as far as the Young Turks are concerned, Kwelagobe now listens to the advice of the likes of Gus Matlhabaphiri who were nowhere to be found by his side in the build up to Kanye because they were busy protecting their cabinet positions. Having been overlooked for cabinet, they now want to seize control of the faction for purposes of rekindling their political fortunes.

Noted academic and political commentator, Dr Christian John Makgala, says if it is true the relationship between Kwelagobe and the Young Turks is experiencing difficulties , it would leave the latter very much weakened and at the mercy of President Khama and some members of the A Team faction who might still be intent on finishing him off. Without the storm troopers who run the factional machinery at branch level, Kwelagobe would have to toe the line or be destroyed by Khama. Dr Makgala argues that were it not for the likes of the Young Turks who continue to shore him up, the old war horse would be down and out. Dr Makgala says Kwelagobe’s credibility is at stake and if he is not careful, his career could end up like that of Dr Kenneth Koma.

The refusal to resign with his allies appears not to have helped Kwelagobe’s situation. On the Tuesday following the Central Committee meeting, the list of nominated councilors was published and, despite his objections, Shima Monageng, a bitter rival and A Team operative who has battled Kwelagobe in two previous primary elections, was rewarded for his tenacity by being given the nod in the Molepolole South constituency. His nomination followed that of Vincent Seretse to the national assembly, a choice which could not have brought joy to Kwelagobe. To show that they mean business, the appointing authorities, no doubt with Khama’s approval, also rewarded Kabo Sebele, a rival of Matlhabaphiri, with a council seat across town in Molepolole North. The nomination of Sebele is another slap in the face for Matlhabaphiri who was the only individual from the pre-election cabinet not invited to serve in the new executive.

When contacted to comment on the latest developments, the lightning rod around whom the whole controversy is centered, Gomolemo Motswaledi, demurred because he is unable to comment on issues concerning the party, save to say that he supports his comrades in their endeavours because they have never deserted him. Motswaledi, regarded as the de- facto leader of the faction, refused to be drawn into saying whether he was referring to the incident where Kwelagobe did not turn up to give evidence on his behalf at the BDP disciplinary hearing, a factor which the committee cited as decisive in handing him a punitive five year suspension.

BDP watchers see the hidden hand of Khama behind the split in Barataphathi. The immediate benefit to the party leader is that he is now without challenge. They say in the current scenario, the Young Turks, who are in control of their own constituencies, and still wield enough influence at local government to install their urban mayors and district chairpersons must take time out to regroup if they still have the urge to fight. It is not expected that the A Team faction, to which Khama is partial, will derive much benefit from the problems bedeviling their Barataphathi rivals. The group is reportedly upset because Khama no longer gives them much of a hearing. A case in point is when he overlooked their key players such as Nkate, Tebelelo Seretse, Neo Moroka and Kavis Kario for nomination to Parliament. For the local government nominations, the likes of Peter Ngoma, Angelina Sengalo and Mcdonald Peloetletse did not make the cut.

With both factions having their own problems, Khama is in the mean time basking in the glory of a man whose plan to assert complete authority over the party is going according to the script he authored. The only question is with the factions being an enduring phenomenon in the BDP, how long will his honeymoon last before hostilities ensue?


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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.