Friday, July 1, 2022

In conversation with BMD’s Gomolemo Motswaledi

Some call him a dissident; others call him undisciplined and still others credit him as wise beyond his years and a political pioneer who will go down in history as one who dared to be different.

I have no expectations ÔÇô he’d sent me BMD’s manifesto before our meeting ÔÇô so I went into our meeting not clueless, their materials are well prepared, but I’m in the communications business, it might all have been put together by someone else. I’ve known Gomolemo for years, at a polite and respectful distance; polite, because I’ve never known him to be anything but and respectful, because I’ve heard him use his voice in ways that verge on the improbable.

In terms of melody, harmony and song, Gomolemo has been blessed. Our interview though, was about Gomolemo Motswaledi, President of the Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, key and insightful political player or simply another partisan pretender?

He’s 43, Mahalapye born but Serowe bred. He’s the eldest of three sons. He’s single with a 13 year old son whom he’s very close to. His formative years were spent in Serowe, his “tabernacle is the city but my software is the village”. He high-schooled in Serowe and spent his Tirelo Sechaba year in Shakawe, going on to the University of Botswana, graduating with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in sociology and history. He took philosophy and theology classes.

As we meander through his past, I identify certain themes; faith, family (he revers his parents and grand-parents; he credits them with imparting upon him and his siblings a sense of responsibility, purpose, accountability, transparency, patience and dedication; to God and gospel, to family and friends, to community and the nation) music as well as honest and vigorous debate as a means to furthering ones understanding.

He relates to me tales from his past; being sent on errands but deviating from the path to go to what I assume must have been freedom square and listening to BDP stalwarts expounding party principles. He heard BNF activists give ‘wonderful speeches’ where they talked, reasoned and countered BDP’s position.

Their talents he says were “evangelical”. He drew inspiration from individuals from across the political spectrum.

I ask him about his political pedigree, the grandson of a BNF member, why BDP? His reasons are multi-faceted; because as he engaged and discussed the issues with his elders ÔÇôhe was told that he was hard headed and a politician born. BDP’s position then he says, made absolute sense to him, no other party was as clear in its platform and it stood head and shoulders above the rest. So he joined GS26 (A BDP organization headquartered at UB) becoming treasurer in his first year and latterly becoming its Chair. Post-graduation he joined the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs as a cultural administrator, after 8 years there he joined the UB as an administrator.

He describes politics and the political process as “an outward expression of what people can do together” and as “the collective personality of the community.” He’s always been drawn to the center as opposed to the fringes of the organizations he’s joined and helped establish (KTM Choir).

He states that his leadership role within KTM instilled in him a certain gravitas; what being a leader entailed ÔÇô using influence in a conscientious manner, making careful and considered plans and taking action, nurturing and developing good deeds and watching them snowball so that its positive effects were felt and spread over-time. Likening this to a musical score, first one reads, tries to understand and then interprets.

In 2007 Gomolemo stood for BDP Secretary General against the incumbent, MP and government minister Jacob Nkate, who defeated him by a margin of 49 votes. He admits that from the get, multiple pronged tactical approaches were made to dissuade him, telling him to contest for Deputy SC instead. It was then that BDP members from Gaborone Central asked him to stand for their constituency which was in opposition. He’d intended to run in the soon to be vacated Serowe North-West constituency, then under the custodianship of His Excellency the President, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

And again the “agents of dissuasion” appeared. He was emotionally and financially exhausted after 2007’s party congress and commitments to family and work could not go unattended. Further within BDP the decision had been made that primaries for those constituencies in opposition hands would be held in November of 2007, the logic being that 2008 would be spent campaigning. He could thus not do both. He put his Serowe North-West ambitions aside.

And when I inquire? He makes it clear that neither the President nor any member of his family ever forbade him from running in that constituency if anything H.E. was always supportive and encouraging.

He recounts how BDP in 2007-2009 was a party divided. The clarity and singularity of purpose that he’d experienced in the past, no longer prevailed. He and other “hotheads” spoke out ÔÇô about the party, BDP policies and critical national issues and in a number of instances, their views, opposed those of party leadership. He, Botsalo Ntuane, Sidney Pilane and Ndaba Gaolathe were told to temper their language and get into line. The BDP they knew had room for opposing views, thus they continued to make themselves heard and were finally called before BDP’s disciplinary committee, charged with “speaking to the public through the papers in a manner that demeaned the integrity of the party”. He appeared before the committee as did Gaolathe. Pilane and Ntuane he recollects simply handed in their resignations.

His 5 year ban from BDP was the outcome, which he points out was effectively a 10 year ban from running for constituent office ÔÇôÔÇô to him it indicated that party leadership did not and were not prepared to work with him, that leadership, including the President asserted their power as was their right, he respected it, but knew politically he was not done.

He consulted family, friends, supporters and comrades as to the what next? And on the 20th of March 2010, over 300 like-minded individuals gathered and the outline of BMD emerged. On the 29th of May, BMD was officially launched.

I had to ask, for a moment in time he was a member of the main opposition party until his comrades began to desert. How did this affect him, BMD and what were their reasons? His answer is succinct, “None of them have ever told me in direct terms why they left”. They all wrote him letters, thanking him for their time in BMD, stating that their reasons were neither personal nor about the party. I inquired as to his instincts with regard to the reasons behind Makgalemele, Moyo, Ntuane and Motlhale and others rejoining the ranks of the BDP; reminding him that a week or so before when he’d welcomed a former BDF ground commander to BMD, he congratulated him for not joining the ranks of the “glamorous”, but being courageous enough to join an organization still in its infancy. He smiles and tells me he intended no disrespect, as to these men’s motives, he wouldn’t be drawn into conjecture. Instead he tells me that look, “I thanked them for their time with us in the BMD.
These men were there from the start, at the overture, when BMD needed them most. Their contribution is indelible.”

When I probed him with regard to what differentiates BMD from BDP, he states, “BDP is a conservative, rightist party. It’s a non-modern inward looking party and a religion to those who believe in it. BMD is a centrist party that is pragmatic, we are outward looking, open and democratic. BMD is to the left of BDP. Its policies and orientation are driven by the aspirations of Batswana. While BDP is not driven by the interests of the masses but is in fact nucleated.”

He does credit BDP with having provided him with a solid political foundation. Would he ever return? “No, the seedling has left the seed-bed and taken its proper place. It would be illogical to return because the politician I am now is not the one I was then, I’d not fit into BDP or the direction it’s going.”

I ask him to name what he and BMD see as Botswana’s burning issues and he states the economy ÔÇô new jobs are not being created in sufficient numbers, it’s structured in such a way that it’s not giving the nation the best returns. Education ÔÇô that Botswana’s youth are not being given an education that will prepare them for the productive jobs of today and the future. Batswana’s general welfare ÔÇô the material conditions under which we live, the availability of services and people’s dignity. He’s clear that dignity is not an abstraction but something that must be promoted and protected. His ultimate remarks to me are these, “The state has collapsed, uncertainty reigns in Botswana under the BDP ÔÇô when will my rubbish be collected? Will there be water and electricity when I get home? Who do I go to with my concerns? Pride is gone. Dignity is dead.”

He walks me out; we’ve spent a number of hours together, going over-time and outside are 20 or so party members awaiting an audience.

It would appear that Gomolemo remains at the center and that he’s there to stay.

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