Thursday, June 13, 2024

BPF swimming in debt as Khama cuts off funding

For the first time since its formation and as a sign of the times, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) has not been able to pay rent for office accommodation at its secretariat in Gaborone as well as the salaries of staff members. This is a direct result of party patron and former president, Ian Khama, withdrawing his financial support in order to punish a National Executive Committee that supports Guma Moyo.

The situation will get even worse if the party’s four MPs and 16 councillors also withdraw financial support for the party as they threaten in separate joint letters that the party leadership. MPs addressed their letter to the Acting President, Caroline Lesang while councillors addressed theirs to the Secretary General, Tshekedi Khama, who is Khama’s younger brother and Serowe North MP.

As with other parties, BPF MPs and councillors pay monthly subscriptions (P1000 for the former and P500 for the latter) which are a crucial lifeline for the three-year old opposition party. These subscriptions give MPs and councillors power and they are hoping they can use this power to exact some concessions (outlined in their letter) from the NEC.

However, the threat to suspend financial support would be limited in its effectiveness for two reasons. Firstly, the support is voluntary and no punitive action can be taken against those who don’t contribute. Secondly, not all MPs have been contributing as they should. Our information is that one (who is certainly the richest BPF MP, has never contributed a thebe from the get-go) and another stopped contributing three months ago when Khama fell out with the NEC. However, it was Khama’s contribution that was more crucial. He had been making such contribution well in time to enable the secretariat to pay rent and staff salaries as well as meet some operational costs. The money didn’t come at the end of August and unless a benefactor fills the gap that Khama has created, the secretariat could lose both office accommodation and staff members.

There is an even more interesting dimension of this issue. Next to Khama, the BPF’s biggest donor is Moyo, who as Tati East MP, served a stint in Khama’s cabinet as assistant finance minister. A late-comer, Moyo – who is contesting for the presidency at next month’s elective congress – has sought to consolidate his power within the party by doling out cash left, right and centre. Himself deep-pocketed, Moyo could very easily fill the financial void that Khama’s created but sources say that he is biding his time for a dramatic knight-in-shining-armour moment.

“He wants to intervene when the financial situation has reached a crisis level and come out as the hero,” says a source.  

Interestingly, Khama should never ever have had to compete with Moyo for control of the BPF. Firstly, it is common knowledge that BPF is a party that Khama formed to execute a special personal project – oust President Mokgweetsi Masisi from power. Secondly, control of the party is based on financial power and Khama has more such power than Moyo could ever do in this lifetime. As BPF members have come to realise and despite what most believe, Khama is actually more comfortable donating what has been donated to him than donating his own resources.

Motho yoo o ngame!” exclaims a party member, meaning that Khama is a penny-pincher.

Some members discovered this side of his after the official launch of the party in 2019 when he couldn’t bail out the party from debts occasioned by an extravagant launch. Ultimately, some dipped into their own pockets to bail the party out. Even more interesting is that Khama’s younger brother and BPF Secretary General, Tshekedi, is said to be a bigger penny-pincher. Tshekedi started butting heads with Moyo as far back as April this year.

Before Moyo secured the party secretariat an office, it was accommodated at the offices of Seleka Springs, a company that Tshekedi is co-director in. On such basis, the party’s membership cards were printed at Seleka Springs with company equipment and under Tshekedi’s supervision. In the process, Tshekedi came into possession of vital party information that he was reportedly not sharing with other party members, including NEC members. There was also complaint that most of the new members who were being registered were from Serowe, which is the tribal headquarters of the royal family that Tshekedi comes from. Another complaint was that the machine at the Seleka Springs office was small and couldn’t make as many cards as was desirable.

At a point when Tshekedi was away in South Africa, Moyo despatched the BPF office manager to South Africa to buy a bigger machine that would be able to print more cards. That he did without consulting Tshekedi who as Secretary General supervises the party secretariat. Naturally, Tshekedi wasn’t happy to learn about this development because not only was his authority being undermined, Moyo will run against him for the presidency at the party’s elective congress.

It was this legendary penny-pinching that enabled Moyo to basically wrest control of the party from the Khama brothers.  

Moyo’s strategic generosity, which has been administratively beneficial to the party, has endeared him to NEC members. The latter effectively pulled the rug from under the feet of the Khama brothers. Not only does Moyo control the party, the upcoming congress is scheduled to be held in his old constituency of Tati East. The Khama brothers want the congress moved from Tati East to Jwaneng-Mabutsane constituency, whose MP seat was delivered to the BPF on a silver platter courtesy of floor-crossing by Mephato Reatile. Moyo’s faction, which enjoys numerical strength in the NEC, has steadfastly refused. It was this refusal that prompted Khama to withdraw his financial support for the party.

Last month, a BPF delegation that was to hold talks with that of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, had to cancel a cross-border trip to Rustenburg when Khama scaled down financial support he had pledged. Days earlier, Khama had made commitment to fully finance the delegates’ trip and stay in Rustenburg: transport, accommodation, food – the whole nine yards. Such generosity was also going to be extended to UDC delegates.

When the NEC met on the first Monday of August, the Khama brothers joined virtually from South Africa. Once more, the two sides failed to find common ground on the venue for the congress. That was when Khama thought that he could use his dominance in the decision-making machinery of the party to make his preference known and close the debate. However, the Moyo faction resisted very strongly with Lesang, Moyo and Baemedi Kudumane (Secretary for Political Education) leading the charge and taking on Khama head on. Putting the matter to a vote would have been a non-starter because the Moyo faction constitutes more than 95 percent of the NEC. Under ordinary circumstances, Khama signs off a virtual call by observing simple traditional courtesy of bidding the other side goodbye. A source said that is not what happened at that meeting.

“He just disappeared from the video call without making indication that he was hopping off,” said the source. “He was obviously very angry.”

Soon after the meeting, members of the delegation learned from Lesang – who had subsequently spoken to Khama, about some changes. The changes were that Khama would pay for the transport and food only and that the meeting should be wrapped on Saturday, after which the delegation should travel back to Botswana. The new arrangement excluded accommodation because the delegation wouldn’t be spending the night in Rustenburg. The initial plan had been that the joint BPF/UDC delegation would travel in two combis but in terms of the new one, they were to share just one.

Determined to both be assertive with Khama while placing party interest front and centre, the negotiating team immediately came up with its own completely different plan. It cancelled the Rustenburg trip and proposed a meeting at Woodpecker Lodge, a hospitality establishment 15 kilometres south of Gaborone along the A1 Highway. Some in the BPF negotiating team are said to have stated that Khama can keep his Rustenburg goodies – which they dismissively expressed in Setswana as “A a tsamaye le Rustenburg wa gagwe.”

That was in early August and when the month ended, the money that Khama has always sent to the secretariat didn’t come.


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