Anyone who doesn’t know Biggie Butale would be forgiven for mistaking him for an opposition Member of Parliament (MP). A relative unknown within the BDP, Butale is a staunch proponent of media freedom and declaration of assets. These are liberal ideals that are characteristic of opposition politicians and will probably set him on a collision course with the party leadership.
Just recently Butale was a bible thumping man of the cloth who, at the helm of the evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB), led a spirited crusade against gays and prostitutes. Without missing a step, he descended from the pulpit to the down and dirty political freedom square, eventually defying all odds to become MP for Tati West after riding roughshod over BDP heavyweights Peter Ngoma, Farai Bonyongo and Robert Muzila in the party primaries.
Even before he could warm his seat in parliament, Butale threw his hat into the ring and announced his candidature for the BDP chairmanship. Traditional BDP members were appalled by the dangerously ambitious fellow who seemed to be agitating for a confrontation with the party leadership. His detractors say Butale’s ‘youthful exuberance’ and ‘dangerous ambition’ will wane with time as the BDP machinery brow beats him to submission. He did not help the situation with his controversial motions challenging sedition and calling for the late Gomolemo Motswaledi to be honoured.
But the young Butale is not fazed by such criticism. He maintains that he is not new to the BDP as he joined it at a tender age of 18 years.
“Together with the likes of Botsalo Ntuane, I was instrumental in transforming GS 26 into a formidable movement at the University of Botswana (UB),” he says.
He later disengaged from politics when he joined the public service in the late 90’s and focused his energies on the church. Fast forward to 2015 and Butale wants to slug it out with party heavyweights Ramadeluka Seretse, Tebelelo Seretse and Tshekedi Khama in the race for the BDP chairmanship. But what really drives this lawyer and clergyman?
“This campaign is not about me. It’s about ushering in a new dawn and restoring a sense of common purpose for BDP and Batswana. It’s not just about holding office but about transformation and reform,” says Butale.
It is his quest for reform that will probably set him on a collision course with the party leadership. For a man who belongs to a traditional and somewhat old fashioned party, Butale is quite a liberal fellow. He is an advocate of political party funding and media freedom. These are the thorny issues that the BDP leadership, especially President Ian Khama, is very much against. For a long time the BDP has resisted calls for declaration of assets, freedom of information and closer ties with the labour movement. But Butale says he will effect these wide sweeping reforms if elected BDP chairman.
“BDP has a problem of perception; my reforms will usher in a new era and make the party relevant. We must repeal the Media Practitioners’ Bill and facilitate rapprochement between the BDP, its government and the media. We must scrap this issue of sedition and promulgate progressive ideas like freedom of information and political party funding,” he says.
He also wants government to reform the local government and decentralise services. He wants Botswana to have executive mayors with executive powers. At party level, Butale says he will bring the central committee closer to the people because it is currently aloof and detached. He wants Bulela Ditswe, the BDP’s primary election system, to be scrapped or at least outsourced to an independent organisation like the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Butale is very much aware that BDP was punished by the decisive vote of the youth in the 2014 general elections.
“It’s important to make the party more appealing to the youth. We must transform the youth wing into a youth league that enjoys a certain degree of autonomy from the mother body. The youth must be allowed to differ with the mother body. Some say this is a recipe for anarchy, I say it will help us retain young people. It’s okay for the youth to be different and radical. That is how you groom leaders,” says Butale.
He believes the BDP should have a consistent and deliberate training and mentoring program that will breed future leaders.
“We must also be more deliberate at empowering women. We shouldn’t remember women only on election year, but rather have in place a deliberate program that starts right after the general elections in preparation for the next elections,” says Butale.
Traditionally, candidates for the BDP chairmanship were drawn along factional lines. This year, the BDP goes to a very contentious congress with four confirmed candidates. Chances are the number will increase before the congress. Butale believes the current scenario is healthy for the party as it shows that democracy is reigning at BDP.
“The more the merrier. Democracy is thriving,” he says.
Butale is widely viewed as an also-ran, a spoiler who has no business swimming with political sharks in the likes of Tshekedi, Ndelu and Tebelelo. Even Vice President Tshelang Masisi is rumoured to be next to stake his claim for the chairmanship. Whoever wins the race will have a head-start to ultimately become president or at least have a say on who becomes president when Ian Khama retires in 2018. But the lawyer-cum-clergyman-cum-legislator maintains that he is a serious contender who stands a real chance of leading the BDP.
“I will travel the length and breadth of the country to deliver my message. People will understand my message of reform because that is what they want. I am satisfied and encouraged by the feedback so far. Come July, I believe I will have done enough to earn the mandate of BDP members,” he says.