The Botswana Democratic Party’s internal wrangles and factional disputes played themselves out at President Festus Mogae’s farewell address in Francistown on Friday. What was intended to be a celebration to bid the President farewell degenerated into the BDP’s traditional factional wrangling and bickering as the celebrations were characterized by catcalls and audible grumbles from BDP councilors who would later tell The Sunday Standard that they were irked by the fact that District Commissioner Sylvia Muzila had hijacked the event and turned it into a forum through which she launched her political career.
Loud grumbles and murmurs of discontent were repeatedly thrown towards the top table from the honourable council seats when the Master of Ceremonies called upon the mass choir, which was the main source on entertainment at the event, to entertain the guests.
BDP councilors made catcalls at the mass choir and some were heard referring to it as “Maaparankwe”, which is the name of the BDP choir in Francistown. Some of the councilors would later tell The Sunday Standard that they were irked by the fact that the mass choir was always singing eulogies and praises to Muzila.
This, they said, was proof that the District Commissioner was using the choir to launch herself ahead of the BDP Bulela Distwe primary elections when she is expected to battle it out with incumbent MP, Tshelang Masisi, and former mayor Peter Ngoma for the Francistown West constituency.
The councilors said that it was inappropriate for the mass choir not to praise the President but rather sing Muzila’s praises at a time when the President was bidding the nation farewell.
“This is Mogae‘s day and the choir should sing his praises, not those of Muzila,” they said in exasperation.
One BDP councilor indicated that they had, during the plenary meetings for the president’s visit, advocated for politically neutral choirs like those from the Botswana Defense Force and the Botswana Police, but were overruled by the District Commissioner who favoured the mass choir. “It is not surprising that this choir is singing her praises. After all, it is common knowledge that the mass choir is made up of employees under her supervision and those who are in her AIDS committees,” charged another councilor.
But the final straw for the councilors came when, during the vote of thanks just before the Francistown East MP Phandu Skelemani gave his speech, the Master of Ceremonies announced that the District Commissioner had asked that she be given a few minutes to bid Francistowners farewell as she was due to retire from the public service on March 31.
“Where is she going?” asked the councilors loudly, by then with scant regard to the presence of the President. Muzila then went on to announce that she was leaving public office to run her non profit making organization called Tabitha Training School at nearby Block 8. But to the Francistown councilors and political commentators the damage was already done as they felt that Muzila had hijacked the Presidential farewell, which Francistowners had attended in droves, to launch her political career. They also said that she had blatantly disrespected the president and the public service at large by using public fora and abusing her office and stature to make announcements that many perceived to be to her own advantage and not for the public interest.
“It is wrong for the District Commissioner to use a public forum that was not meant for her to her own advantage. She had ample time to say farewell to Francistowners in the future. Why would she want to hijack the presidential farewell visit? This is disrespectful and it is tantamount to the very abuse of office that we have been talking about,” they fumed.
Talking to The Sunday Standard on Friday, councilor Ignatius Moswaane a long time vociferous detractor of Muzila, said that it is very unfortunate that the District Commissioner would want to steal the limelight away from the President.
”Other public officers have resigned before, some of them more senior than her, but they have never strived to use the president’s time to their own advantage,” he said.
Muzila is no stranger to political controversy as she has always been a favourite subject in freedom square politics. Francistown West MP Tshelang Masisi and former mayor, Ignatius Moswaane, have on more than one occasion accused her of abusing her office as District Commissioner to campaign for future political office, openly challenging her to resign from the public service and join the murky waters of freedom square politics if she fancied herself as a politician.
Many feel that Moswaane and Masisi’s worries were justified and those close to her say that the die is already cast and that it is only a matter of time before she declares her candidature for Francistown West.
Meanwhile, a Muzila sympathizer, Otto Masogo, said that he does not understand what the councilors are complaining about. He said that the Presidential farewell was not a political rally but a kgotla meeting at which the DC was within her rights to make the announcement.
”Where would she have found another opportunity to bid her people farewell? It is very difficult to call people to kgotla meetings as they have work commitments,” he said. Masogo added that the response that he got from the public was that the people were happy that at least their beloved DC had said goodbye to them.
He also threw salvos at Muzila’s detractors saying that it will be interesting to see what straws they are now going to clutch at as they have always unfairly accused her of using her office for political gain when, in fact, she was just performing her duties as a DC.
”Muzila leaves on the same date as the President. It was only fair that she asks for a few minutes to bid Francistowners farewell with the knowledge that she has served them well and has no reason to run away,” he said.While the District Commissioner could not be reached for comment, she has in the past refused to answer to her detractors’ allegations saying that she is not allowed to comment on political matters as she is still a civil servant.