The charges and counter-charges are flying fast and thick as the race for Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairmanship is heating up and candidates are accusing the party leadership of employing dirty tricks in favour of other candidates.
Central Region on Monday was forced to defend a meeting in Serowe that appeared to support Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s campaigns for the party’s chairmanship position ahead of the elective congress slated for July.
In an interview on Monday, Central Region Chairman, Oboetswe Gabotlale said the meeting that the region held at the weekend was not meant to prop up Masisi’s campaign. He accused other candidates of crying foul because they had not made an arrangement to advance their campaigns at the meeting.
While he dismissed claims that other contenders were unfairly treated, Gabotlale confirmed that Masisi was allocated more time than other contenders.
“After learning that I was going to have a regional meeting, the Vice President phoned me asking if he could be given a slot to address those in attendance and just like other contenders had done before, I agreed. But I told him that I was not going throw my support behind any of the candidates,” he said.
Gabotlale said when other candidates learnt that Masisi was scheduled to address the meeting and advance his campaign, they were under the impression that it was the Vice President who had convened the meeting.
“But the truth of the matter is that this was a scheduled regional meeting. The other candidates also asked for a slot and I accommodated them. But since they had not made an arrangement with me, I explained to them that I was going to give them few minutes to address the meeting,” he said.
Gabotlale added that “when I called the Vice President to the podium, I even explained to the other candidates that I had allocated him a slot and they had not made such a request but for lack of a better word, hijacked the meeting. But I caved in and allowed them to address the meeting.”
Explaining that if there are some members of the BDP or contenders who feel that they were unfairly treated, Gabotlale said he would not use his office to campaign for any of the candidates.
“It was a pre arranged set up and I told them that they could not demand a big share. Not that I’m defending the Vice President, but some of them have had opportunities to address council meetings,” he said.
There are fears that the BDP is likely to come out of the elective congress a polarised organisation. There is a strong suspicion that the party is doing everything at its disposal to sideline other contenders.
Meanwhile reports indicate that the party has chickened out of its plan to institute a disciplinary hearing and ultimately suspend one of the candidates and Member of Parliament for Tati West Biggie Butale, party insiders said this week.
This comes in the wake of complaints by some contenders for the BDP chairmanship that Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi was being favoured by the party leadership at the expense of other candidates.
It is understood that among charges that Butale was likely to face relate to an interview he had with Mmegi newspaper in which criticised the leadership after what many perceived as endorsement by President Ian Khama at a meeting in Palapye.
When contacted for comment, secretary general Mpho Balopi laughed off the botched suspension.
“What you have is unofficial and again I don’t know anything to that effect. Absolutely there is nothing on my table or anything about the party having an intention to do that,” he said.
Fearing that Butale’s suspension would divide the party along the north-south axis, BDP decided not to go ahead with its intension to call Butale for a disciplinary hearing and eventually suspend him from the party.
“His suspension was going to divide the party. Remember that BDP’s stronghold in terms of constituencies is the northern part of the country. The Southern part is dominated by the opposition, so the suspension was going to work against not only the party but Masisi the very person that is favoured by the party,” said an insider.
The contestants are scheduled to advance their campaigns in Kgalagadi sometime this month.
Butale’s phone rang unanswered while Masisi’s phone was off air. Other contenders for the position are former Minter of Justice, Defence Justice and Security Ramadeluka Seretse, former Botswana Ambassador to United States of America, Tebelelo Seretse,, former Youth Wing chairman Dithapelo Tshotego, Seteng Motalaote and businessman Moemedi Dijeng.