Monday, May 17, 2021

BDP leadership has failed to use Merafhe’s death to unite and rally the troops

It is very rare that somebody so divisive in life could prove very much like that even in death.

Yet that is exactly what the late vice president Mompati Merafhe, who was buried in Serowe on Saturday has proved.

Abroad, the only political figure that comes to mind, who was as divisive in death as she had been in life is Margaret Thatcher, the legendary British Prime Minister, who when news of her death broke, many people, especially the ex-miners and trade unionists publicly and in a very literal way rejoiced at news of her death.

Margaret Thatcher’s over ten years in power had obliterated Britain’s once powerful trade unions and drove thousands of coal miners out of work.

She was merciless in her zeal to privatise state enterprises and even more merciless in her attack and persecution of trade unionists who she accused, not always fairly, of having brought the British economy on its knees.

When Thatcher’s death was announced, former trade unionist supremo, Arthur Scargill is famously reported to have tweeted: “Scargill alive.” Such was the depth of the duo’s animosity.

After a comprehensive rejection at last year’s General Elections there is no need to conjure proof that the BDP is a waning force.

There is no questioning that the party is currently grappling with what by all accounts amount to existential predicaments.

All attempts at renewal and reinvention since elections have at best been half-hearted and at worst outright disastrous.

After a decimal showing at the elections, the party had hoped to use the funeral arrangements of Mompati Merafhe to prove that as a political force they are back. That strategy has clearly not worked. If anything it only served to make glaringly stark the party’s almost insurmountable problems and also lay bare the ingrained levels of disunity with which it might have to contend before a turnaround is achieved.

For the opposition, election results were clearly not a fluke.

The BDP is not a well oiled machine that we used to think it was.

Leadership incompetence is definitely at the heart of the many ills. But more worrying now is a fast creeping culture that highlights shockingly high levels of emotional inaptitude.

The leader has for his entire political career ÔÇô ten years as vice president and a further six as president been in control of both himself and the party.

With the results of last year’s General Elections, that control has now deserted him.
Any talk of omnipotence about him is now an irresponsible exaggeration.
Upon arrival into the presidency he sponsored and fuelled a crescendo of euphoria about himself, not seen before or since.
He encouraged and then reveled in an aura of invincibility that was seized and then goaded by his army of admirers in the party.

Reality has now kind of caught up with him.

The disparities between promises made and those delivered are not only unmistakable but also unpardonable.

He can no longer guarantee victory the same way he used to. Yet because he alienated all talent and experience and then went on to paint himself in the picture silhouette of a messiah, the party still looks up to him to deliver miracles.

And this notwithstanding the fact that the self-belief he once exuded and carried about himself seems to have dissipated.

The public has lost its fondness for him, yet he too comes across as increasingly disinterested.

What public excitement he used to inspire has all but faded away.

Merafhe’s favorite quotation was that by Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers: “No man carries out of politics the good reputation that he brought into it.”

He could easily have been referring to Ian Khama.

Unfortunate as the death of Merafhe was, it provided the BDP with a rare opportunity to attempt whatever self sustenance it could muster.

It has been unpardonable to watch such an opportunity being squandered.

The memorial service in Gaborone was poorly attended, signaling that the party clearly failed to mobilise members to attend. A public announcement urging public servants to attend was clearly ignored ÔÇô possibly scoffed.

And then there was the organizational ineptitude.

Except for former President Sir Ketumile Masire, almost the entire line up of speakers at the memorial service hardly knew the man to speak of him in any convincing manner. As expected, they were uninspiring.

By all practical purposes, the BDP Secretary General, Mpho Balopi would at the earliest have met Merafhe for any meaningful interaction in 2010. This disqualifies him as an authority on the life of a political icon whose career spanned well over fifty years.

Why wouldn’t the party call in the services of such people like Patrick Balopi who together with Merafhe tried for many years to break the BDP away from the Peter Mmusi / Daniel Kwelagobe axis?

Alternatively, why wouldn’t the BDP call in the services of David Magang who was for many years a political ally of Merafhe, united albeit by their mutual hatred for one Daniel Kwelagobe?
Why, for example was Bernard Bolele not among the speakers at the memorial service?
Bolele was Merafhe’s right hand man in Mahalapye for over ten years.

When Merafhe first wanted to represent Mahalapye in parliament, many residents of that village resisted as they quite rightly viewed his as a cut and dried case of a carpetbagger.
Bolele stood by him and volunteered to be his campaign manager.

For over a decade the two worked together until the young lass eventually developed ambitions of his own.

The relationship only collapsed and the two fell out after Bolele made it known that he would be challenging for the position after the guru reneged on a deal to retire.

Most importantly, if the BDP is serious about renewal why wouldn’t they enlist the services of Daniel Kwelagobe to speak at the memorial services of a man whose political career was from the beginning to the end defined and determined by a blistering desire to wean the BDP out of Kwelagobe’s sphere of influence, a goal that though ultimately not fulfilled would have far-reaching ramifications for Botswana’s political economy?

Events of the past week should worry those still entertaining fantasies that saving the BDP will be as easy as a walk in the park.

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