As someone whose mother tongue is English, Ian Khama should be the last person to be judo-swept by that language but that is what happened last Saturday.
Speaking at the funeral of Priscilla Moswaane, who was the wife of the Francistown East MP, Ignatius Moswaane, Khama invited his audience to ruminate on the irony of a minister who has himself crossed the floor one too many times bringing legislation that would prohibit floor-crossing.
To be clear, Kabo Morwaeng has indeed done the rounds of Botswana’s political landscape and had he gone to the University of Botswana instead of the National University of Lesotho, would likely have hopped from GS26 (the Botswana Democratic Party’s cell at UB) to Mass (Botswana National Front cell at UB)) and the UB-origin Marx Engels Lenin and Stalin movement.
Morwaeng’s political career started at Sir Ketumile Masire’s BDP from where he joined Dr. Kenneth Koma’s BNF and was part of a group that broke away to form the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) whose founding president was Michael Dingake. He later went back to the BDP and once more, was part of a dissident group that broke away to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). He didn’t stay too long in BMD because soon thereafter, he rejoined the BDP for the second time. Since 1994, Morwaeng had been pining for a parliamentary seat and he was doing all those rounds in search of that seat. That ambition was realised on October 23 last year when he was elected to parliament for the very first time in his life on a BDP ticket.
A term that originated in the British House of Commons, “floor-crossing” has a very specific meaning and describes very specific set of actions by particular people that occur in a particular place: an MP literally crossing the floor to join MPs of another political party, who are seated on the opposite side of the floor. If he were to rejoin the BNF, BCP or BMD during the life of this parliament, Morwaeng would indeed be crossing the floor and would be doing so for the very first time. That is because only MPs and councillors can cross the floor. Given that the house of a party’s regional or constituency secretary serves as the party’s office, ordinary activists who quit one party and join another merely cross the village street. Of late, some BDP and Umbrella for Democratic Change members have been dumping their parties for the Botswana Patriotic Front. These people are not crossing floor – they are merely defecting.
The semantic distinction between “floor-crossing” and “defection” is very important, not least because words are socially-contracted commodities that have a very specific meaning to the linguistic community that uses them. Strictly speaking, Morwaeng has never ever crossed the floor and any assertion that he did distorts the historical record.
During the current sitting of parliament, Morwaeng will table a bill that would have the effect of outlawing crossing the floor with a seat.