Friday, December 4, 2020

Friends or Foes? … Following the BFA elections trail

A day before the Botswana Football Association (BFA) elections, we deliberately decided we would attend the association General Assembly in Jwaneng instead of Gaborone, which is our base.

As with all the other journalists, we knew that if we attended in Gaborone, we would not be able to get into the assembly.

The closest we could see what was happening then would be from a media booth which would be somewhere close to the assembly hall.

The media booth, we were informed, would be connected to the venue via virtual technology. It would only beam speeches by the guest of honour and the BFA president’s welcome remarks.

For us, this would not suffice. The campaign trail had been very hot and we wanted to see how the deliberations would be when the assembly sat down for business.

We also believed that as the number of delegates in Jwaneng was expected to be very small, we would be able to get in the assembly room.

Another selling point was that the Western Block had always been a deciding factor in elections. We believed the campaign here would be very intense and it would be one to watch.

The intention here was to see how the electioneers went about their job, more especially on the eve of the elections.

After convincing our superiors, late on Friday, we were given a go ahead to attend the general assembly in Jwaneng. We left well after 10 pm.

When we arrived in Jwaneng at midnight, our first call was to the man we knew could help us unpack how the elections would go, Setete Phuthego.

Now the BFA Competitions Manager, Phuthego is a battle-hardened campaigner. Picking his brains

For close to thirty minutes, we waited for him to arrive and it was all worth the wait.

Upon meeting with us, he placed a call to one man familiar within the football election campaigns, Tariq Babitseng.

Both Phuthego and Babitseng have faced each other in the campaign trail, and both it seems held each other in high regard.

“If you are on the campaign trail, you should never sleep before Tariq sleeps. If you do that, by the time you wake up, most of your voters would have changed their minds,” Phuthego declared as we settled down.

Chuckling, Babitseng also declared the same saying it would be impossible for him to sleep before Phuthego slept as he could visit his voters at night.

But how could these men, expected to be sworn enemies, be so at ease with each other and share such friendship?

Both Phuthego and Babitseng say despite being in different camps in football, their friendship goes beyond football.

According to Phuthego, Babitseng is a brother to him and their friendship goes beyond football. He says the latter visits his house when he can and is close to his kids, who have nicknamed him uncle Ice Cream because he buys them ice cream whenever he visits.

Their friendship, it seems, goes back to when Babitseng was given an unenviable task of firing Phuthego from his position at the Botswana Premier League.

“The first thing I did when given the task was to try and understand why Phuthego was to be fired from his job. At the time, he was going through a rough patch,” he says.

Tariq Babitseng

“When the time came, I went to Phuthego at his house and we sat down and talked amicably as brothers. I listened to him and after that, he agreed to quit BPL. We have been in each other’s good books since then,” Babitseng explains.

For the remainder of the night, we talked about elections as both men gave an analysis of how they believed the elections would pen out.

Around 6am, we parted ways. Phuthego went to prepare the assembly venue and we went to shower, while Babitseng went to take a nap, perhaps getting ready for the gruelling day ahead.

As the assembly got underway, it was evident that the battle for the votes was underway.

Both camps were waiting and watching. Where they have been promised a vote but felt a delegate was undecided, the camps never let him or her get out of sight.

As one undecided delegate ventured outside, where Babitseng and crew lay in wait, one concerned campaigner sent a word out.

Whether the delegate was going to the loos or her hotel room, she was to be followed.

As they already knew, this was a deciding block, and every vote counted. Each knew that the delegates here were unpredictable, and each had to zealously guard the vote they had.

Ahead of the vote, Team Sebego had been sure of all votes in this block except for two.

When voting finally got underway and Tebogo Sebego trailed Letshwiti by a single vote in the first vote, Babitseng and crew knew they had a fight in their hands.

As delegates took a break before the re-run, the electioneers were waiting, rounding them up and escorting them out.

Impromptu meetings were convened as campaigners tried to make sense of what had happened and to map ways forward.

“We have just managed to convince one of the delegates to change and vote for us,” one Team Sebego campaigner proclaimed as the re-run got underway.

True to word, when the re-run votes were counted, the votes and changed and Letshwiti was now the one trailing Sebego by a single vote.

This would however not count for much as elsewhere, Sebego lost at least four votes and ended up losing by four votes to Letshwiti.

Perhaps as both Babitseng and Phuthego called it out, this was an art of war, and to win, you needed to know the art of deception.

But this still did not answer a lot of lingering questions as we returned home from what had been a gruelling campaign.

“How was this vote decided? How did some of the unfancied candidates go all the way to reruns and some win the vote?”

As for Phuthego and Babitseng, even as they went their separate ways on Sunday, they both still acknowledged each other.

It had been a good fight, and both knew they had given their best. In the end, they were still friends.

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