The Botswana National Front goes to conference over the Presidents Day week beset by the challenge of retrieving its lost dominance of the Gaborone parliamentary constituencies.
The accumulated frustration of the BNF electorate following fruitless campaigns for the constituency by former secretary general, Mareledi Giddie, and vice president, Kathleen Letshabo, under Otsweletse Moupo, gave the constituency to sitting parliamentarian and president of an offshoot party, Dumelang Saleshando. He has since ascended to the parliamentary position of leader of the opposition following recent Botswana Movement for Democracy defections to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
The BNF also lost its vice president, Isaac Mabiletsa, to the Congress Party. He was a founder member of the organisation in 1998 along with 10 other parliamentarians who took flight from the BNF.
The Gaborone Central constituency lies at the very gut of the BNF’s claim to leadership of the opposition. Kenneth Koma and Maitshwarelo Dabutha broke the stranglehold of the BDP on the constituency in 1984, Koma winning over vice president, Peter Mmusi, in a by-election.
At that election, the BNF and the Botswana Peoples Party, both partners at the newly established opposition umbrella organisation with the BMD, gained control of the Francistown, Jwaneng, Gaborone and Lobatse councils. The organisations also showed signs of making advances in the rural constituencies where Joseph Kavindama won at Okavango with Shuan Nthaile coming close to victory at Kgalagadi.
The political advantage of the BNF took a plunge culminating in failure to find credible candidates for Gaborone Central and North, also leaving Gaborone South West vulnerable after the defection of Robert Molefhabangwe to the BDP. Paul Rantao’s constituency at Gaborone West North was also lost to the Botswana Democratic Party.
Former secretary general of the party, Akanyang Magama, entered the race late at Gaborone South after a series of court battles with his party. He also lost to the BDP.
The recovery of the Gaborone constituencies lies at the centre of the party’s aspirations for regaining leadership of the opposition and government.
Ironically, it appears that the BNF is least organised in the five Gaborone constituencies, especially Gaborone Central.
Representation of the constituency at the special congress in Mahalapye was overshadowed by the other constituencies. Not much publicity was given to the Gaborone Central conference held at Tsholofelo Hall in Gaborone last weekend.
Perhaps, the redeeming prospect for Gaborone Central lies at the University of Botswana where the ‘Umbrella’ parties, including the Botswana Congress Party, elected a students’ representative council of their collective choice.
The destiny of the opposition parties at Gaborone South might just be determined by the influence of the university community on the constituency. That influence will depend on the divisive effect of the faltering unity of the Umbrella movement which has lost the Botswana Congress Party and its president, Dumelang Saleshando.
The university could be divided by the divisions at the original Umbrella, or it could build it.
Otherwise it does appear that the Mahalapye special congress went some way in rehabilitating the cracks that threatened to bring the BNF to its knees.
ÔÇó There seemed to be renewed confidence in president, Duma Boko, and his leadership team
ÔÇó The special congress affirmed the efficacy of the Umbrella
ÔÇó The congress took firm actions against members who had publicly challenged the positions of the leadership of the organisation.
ÔÇó Contrary to press speculation, there was no violence at the meeting
ÔÇó The congress was attended by 3,000 delegates from all over the country.
Rumour has it that at Bontleng, members are keeping their fingers crossed that reputed attorney, Dick Bayford, will offer himself for parliamentary office.
Magama escaped the axe at the Mahalapye congress because, according to delegates, he had not disrespected the disciplinary organs of the party even if he was mentioned among the names of the people who tried to close the BNF office in Gaborone. He could be yet another asset in the rebuilding of confidence in the party in Gaborone.
In March this year, the leaders of the member parties of the Umbrella signed a declaration affirming their confidence in the joint opposition project. They seem to be convinced that the project will work, and that should shape their attitudes towards the distribution of candidates at the 2014 general election.
Regulations approved at the Mogoditshane meeting of 2007 for the selection of parliamentary and council candidates are being distributed from the BNF office. Presumably, these will be reconciled with the strategy of the Umbrella for choice of candidates.
Expectations are that the Kanye conference will discuss the constitution of the Umbrella and the document titled “A Summary of Merged Draft Policies of the Umbrella”.
The document addresses agriculture, the economy, education, environment, gender, governance, health, labour and others.
There might also be an opportunity for the discussion of group membership of a socialist party, members speculate. (Wordworks)