The Bosele Ward in the Gaborone City Council may be over but Botswana Democratic Party operatives in the Ward still have some unfinished business over it.
The party, which has held the seat since 1999, fielded Isaac Moseki who lost to Mpule Maplanka of the Umbrella for Democratic Change by 30 votes. The margin would have been wider if the Botswana Congress Party, which is a member of the UDC but is on its way out, hadn’t fielded its own candidate. BCP’s candidate, Kgomotso Kaelo, garnered 228 votes.
Following the bye-election, seven members of the branch committee resigned citing dissatisfaction with the leadership style of the chairperson, Letso Keikothaile. They accused Keikothaile of having being running the committee as a one-man show. A sub-group from the seven that resigned went farther and accused Keikothaile of having connived with John Mokandla, who is a member of the Botswana Patriotic Front.
Btv viewers would know the Mokandla (popularly known as Mazabathi) as an actor who has been featured on some of the channel’s programmes. However, even before Btv was established, he was a political operative in the BDP and actually worked at the party’s headquarters in Gaborone. That relationship ended in 2019 when former president Ian Khama quit the BDP and formed the Botswana Patriotic Front. Mokandla was among BDP members who followed Khama to the BPF and now works at the party office in Gaborone. Given how long he has been in politics and how long he has lived in Gaborone, Mokandla is an able grassroots organiser. He was part of the corps of foot soldiers that Khama deployed during the 2019 general election campaign season. While he (Khama) flew around in a chopper, the foot soldiers slogged on the ground doing house-to-house campaigns and organising political rallies that Khama addressed.
BPF is now part of the UDC – which was the reason (or excuse) it gave for not fielding its own candidate in Bosele. What the party did instead was deploy some of its members in Gaborone, Mokandla being one, to campaign on Maplanka’s behalf. On election day, Mokandla was spotted transporting voters to and from polling stations in the Ward – which didn’t raise eyebrows because that is what all other parties vying for the vacant seat were doing. What raised eyebrows (after the fact) was Mokandla’s friendly interaction with Keikothaile. Some of the BDP members who resigned from the branch committee have alleged that Keikothaile connived with Mokandla to sabotage the chances of their party retaining the Bosele seat. The interaction between the two men, who are said to have had a personal relationship before BPF was formed, on election day is being cited as evidence of the sabotage.
However, there is another dynamic that doesn’t feature Mokandla and has to do with the branch’s internal business.
Breaking with tradition, the BDP opted to select a candidate for the bye-election. The selection was by way of a recommendation that was made by Keikothaile and ultimately endorsed by the Central Committee. That displeased some branch committee members and party members in the Ward. The choice of candidate was between Moseki and a former Ward councillor and while the former ended up getting the nomination, there was a very strong feeling that the honour should have gone to the latter. Moseki was deemed unsuitable because he is new to the party, having been a BCP member. As one consequence of dissatisfaction with Moseki, some members are said to have quietly withdrawn their political labour from the campaign. This dissension in the ranks, occurring at a very critical moment, boded ill for Moseki’s electoral chances.
The dispute has been referred to the regional committee, which is expected to hold deliberations in not too long and make recommendations to the Central Committee – which will take what it deems to be appropriate action.
Council bye-elections may seem a small matter but they gave a good indication of how the next general election might turn out. On the whole, the BDP has been struggling and that could signal that the 2024 general election will be an even bigger challenge.