In the past century, it was a Mosotho South African and in this one it is a British South African helping Botswana National Front activists cobble together a case for vote-rigging.
Having lost the October 23 general election, some Umbrella for Democratic Change, most of them from the BNF, are up in arms, claiming that they were cheated. Among them is UDC and BNF president, Duma Boko, who contested for the Gaborone Bonnington North parliamentary seat. Following the announcement of the result, Boko made contact with a British South African man called Paul O’Sullivan who heads an organisation called Forensics for Justice. On the basis of investigation he did, O’Sullivan has announced to the world that the Botswana Democratic Party rigged the October 23 elections. The organisation has put together a report which makes the following conclusion: “the Botswana general election of 2019 was fraudulently rigged to favour the BDP by the leadership of the BDP, assisted by the Directorate for Intelligence and Security Services. There can be no reason, other than fraud, why the intelligence services were involved in the election. The following offences are indicated: fraud, corruption [and] money-laundering.”
Decades before, during the presidency of BNF founder, Dr. Kenneth Koma, another South African whom Lemogang Ntime only recalls as a Mosotho acquaintance of Koma, also alleged that the BDP was rigging elections.
Then elections were conducted by way of a colour-coded disc system. The BDP’s disc was red while the BNF used a rectangular, plain black disc. After successive losses, the BNF was naturally short on good cheer and there was desperate need to boost troop morale. Koma – who had an award-winning novelist’s genius for constructing beguiling plot outlines, started hustling a theory that these victories were a direct result of the BDP using an ancient method of urine engineering. It was then that the BNF made a historic triage decision to have its own disc redesigned in order to make it impossible for the ruling party to cheat.
The full extent of Koma’s theory was that BDP operatives used a certain chemical which, when applied on black discs inside a ballot box, caused them to turn red – in that way criminally increasing the ruling party’s vote tally. The recollection of Ntime, Koma’s long-time ally, is that this gem of intelligence had been passed on to the BNF by a certain “South African expert”, a Mosotho whom Koma had met at the University of Cape Town.
“We had no scientific proof that really happened but the expert suggested there was a strong possibility that was the case. We had reason to believe it could be so because when the discs were counted, some of them were a suspiciously curious mixture of black and red. It was never explained to us how that happened. It was then that we demanded that the BNF ballot disc should have a hole in the middle,” says Ntime.
To other party members the mysterious chemical was identified as ammonia. Koma, an iconic voice-of-a-generation politician who died in 2007, said that ammonia used to change the colour of ballot discs was extracted from huge quantities of urine. Well before Election Day, the story goes, a whole platoon of dedicated urinators would heavy-breathe through a days-long, Olympics-scale piss-athon, filling up a collection of recycled containers with a never-ending stream of hot urine. The ammonia extracted from that urine would somehow be secreted into ballot boxes to literally work its magic.
In one respect, Koma was right. In the Middle Ages, Egyptian artisans used ammonia – in the form of sludge from fermented urine – to make dye.
Ntime says that the BDP government (under Sir Ketumile Masire) resisted the suggestion but ultimately caved in. However, drilling a hole in the disc did not improve the BNF’s fortunes and when the disc system was replaced by paper-balloting in 1999, the BDP was still running rings round the entire opposition. At this point, the black disc with the hole had fatefully become a treasured party symbol.