Following what it suspects to be a clandestine “vote-rigging” operation that is being conducted from the Botswana National Front head office, the campaign of Dr. Bucs Molatlhegi wants elections for both the Central Committee and Youth League to be supervised by an independent electoral body. The office was the site of some unusual activity last Thursday night when supporters of Molatlhegi clashed with those of party president, Duma Boko. At the height of this clash, some combatants allegedly exchanged the most common Setswana lavatorial insult, which comes in the form of a threat.
The Bucs Campaign (which is actually what Molatlhegi’s campaign is actually called) is questioning what Boko’s supporters were doing in the office in the dead of night – between 11p.m. and 2a.m. Its theory is that “some people with vested interest in the coming elections of both the BNF Youth League and Central Committee” are conniving with staff at the office to unlawfully print membership cards for Boko’s supporters. Acting on a tip-off, some members of The Bucs Campaign snuck upon Boko supporters in the dead of night. They retain conviction that the latter were in the process of printing membership cards for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify to vote in the congresses in question. A statement from The Bucs Campaign says that the alleged perpetrators were “caught red-handed having locked themselves inside the party office.”
The statement makes another damning allegation – that the grand plan of the perpetrators “is to continue the vote-rigging that happened during the Women’s League Congress in Thamaga.” This allegation is now new and has been made by some of the candidates who unsuccessfully contested the Thamaga election. The second part of this allegation is that operatives of Fear Fokol, a powerful terror squad within the party, turned out in full force for purposes of intimidating voters.
Two more elections are in the offing: that of the Youth League Committee which is scheduled for this Saturday (April 30) and that of the Central Committee which is scheduled for the President’s Day holidays in July. The Bucs Campaign wants a re-registration exercise that has been going on to be stopped and reversed “because it is tainted and clearly meant to disenfranchise some party members”; the supervision of elections for the upcoming elections to be handed over to an “independent electoral body”; as well as the suspension and institution of disciplinary proceedings against “all individuals implicated in the illegal activities, including Mmabatshidi Segwabe, the Administration Officer.”
Sunday Standard learns on Friday morning when emotions were still raw, some members of The Bucs Campaign wanted to play hard ball. A source says suggestions mooted include boycotting the July election (which would undermine its outcome and the credibility of the no-contest winners), demanding the postponement of the Youth League’s congress, shutting down the office and changing the door locks as well as engaging an expert to carry out forensic examination of the card-printing machine. At press time (Friday night) members of The Bucs Campaign were locked in a meeting. What resolutions were reached would certainly be tabled at the BNF Central Committee meeting scheduled for this Friday.
In its defence, the BNF secretariat has, through its spokesperson, Justin Hunyepa, denied that preparations for the upcoming congresses have been attended by any chicanery. A statement by Hunyepa says that the party’s Executive Committee stopped the registration process on April 20 and that the registration will only resume after the Youth League Congress.
“This has been effected by a private consultant and no one has since accessed the card-processing platform since Wednesday. This means that no new membership forms are being captured; no new cards are being printed,” reads Hunyepa’s statement, adding that both the Deputy Secretary General, Nelson Ramaotwana, and secretariat staff have confirmed the latter to be the case. “The employees at the office were printing T-shirts and they presented the equipment they were using and the printed T-shirts before the complainants and the Central Committee members present.”
Earlier in the day, Hunyepa had made the latter assertion at what appeared to be an impromptu press conference. However, he was challenged on one aspect of that claim. It so happened that a reporter from an online news outlet called Parrot News Online visited the BNF office at the time that the cards were allegedly being printed. On its Facebook page, the outlet reports that “some BNF employees assaulted the Parrot News Online reporter and deleted the livestream video. The livestream video was streaming four members insulting and fighting with other BNF members at the BNF office premises.” An earlier post reported even more spectacular action. A 5:27 a.m. post reads: “Hiding their faces two youth came out of the BNF office running. Out of nowhere a Honda Fit appeared, they got in and it drove away.”
At the press conference, Hunyepa was asked why the members in question took such drastic action (assaulting a reporter) when they were merely carrying out an above-board party activity. In response, Hunyepa said that he was not aware of the journalist being assaulted but would carry out investigations to establish what had happened.
The BNF drama happens as Boko faces challenge from a former lecturer and colleague of his at the University of Botswana where he studied and later taught law. Molatlhegi got to UB before Boko and at a press conference where he announced his candidacy, remembered accompanying Boko and other students on an international trip. At that same press conference, Molatlhegi incurred the wrath of some Boko supporters after saying that the BNF “is in an ICU” and needs to be brought back to life. Some of Boko’s youthful supporters have dismissed Molatlhegi as “old” while others have alleged that he is a ruling party operative who has been deployed to destabilise the BNF.
Boko is eyeing a prize bigger than leadership of the BNF: presidency of the Umbrella for democratic Change which is a loose coalition of the BNF, Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana Peoples Party. While he is currently UDC president, he would lose that position if he loses the July contest. If he is re-elected and manages to cling to the UDC presidency, he will become state president if UDC wins the 2024 general election. However, his immediate challenge is keeping UDC together because the BCP is unhappy and some of its leaders have used language that strongly suggests that they are no interested in staying in the coalition.