Monday, December 5, 2022

Jerry Chitube didn’t eat, drank mineral water only

It is hard to tell whether Jerry Chitube considered eating in public to be an act of indecency (which it can indeed be when one’s teeth have to wrestle sinewy undercooked beef shank cooked on the bone) or whether he was on an extreme water-only liquid diet in preparation for Mr. BDP 2015. Whatever the case may be, politician-cum-actor, John Mazabathi Mokandla says that in all the meetings that he had with Chitube, not once did he see him eat a morsel of food.

“He wouldn’t even drink Coke. The only thing I ever saw him drink during all our meetings was mineral water,” Mokandla recalls of his brief, if turbo-charged interaction with the Zambian master spy whose cloak-and-no-dagger exploits hold the golden promise of providing front-page news well past this winter.

At their very first meeting, Chitube made it clear that money would be no object and soon Mokandla would witness that with his own eyes. Entourage in tow and cool as you like ÔÇô or don’t, Chitube would waltz into a fancy restaurant, open a tab and show his companions a really good time. While this phalanx of associates knocked down mountains of exotic western food and popped bottles, Chitube restricted himself to mineral water that he sipped straight from a bottle. He didn’t carry cash (“I never saw him take out money out of his pocket,” Mokandla says) and would happily settle all his bills with a debit card. In terms of tipping, this big-hearted man did the equivalent of bequeathing a substantial part of his estate to waitresses ÔÇô in Setswana that would be go fa boswa.

Although he eschewed stews, Chitube would consume gigabytes of data in one sitting and still hunger for a second helping when he cleared the table at the end of meetings. Mokandla reveals that whenever he was sitting down, Chitube would be on his laptop, pecking away at the keyboard while engaged in earnest conversation at the same time. He could punch a few buttons to call up on the screen, a picture of himself and a top Dubai fashion designer whose name Mokandla has blanked on. The designer was reportedly one of the international business associates who were financing his campaign.

With the leadership congress of the youth wing of the Botswana Democratic Party not too far off, Chitube called at Tsholetsa House, the party headquarters in Gaborone, looking for a veteran party operative who could galvanise his campaign for the chairmanship of the youth wing. The two ladies he spoke to at Tsholetsa House recommended Mokandla and that is how the two men crossed paths. In a very loosely defined role that he played over the remaining two weeks of the campaign, Mokandla served as some kind of Chief of Stuff, giving an insider’s perspective on BDP youth politics as well as providing strategic, operational and tactical direction to Chitube’s campaign. The campaign manager was a lady from Kgalagadi district whom Mokandla identifies only as Monica.

Interestingly for someone whose Botswana nationality has been brought into question, Chitube is reported to have embodied Botswana’s fifth national principle ÔÇô botho. Having money fall out of your pockets and international businessmen on speed dial typically causes the average Joe to wallow in vanity and pride. Conversely, Chitube is described as being every bit a salt-of-the-earth man who maintains a consistent room-temperature temperament.

“I found him to be an unfailingly respectful and dignified man. His tone of voice conveyed his deep respect for people. To me he came across as a sweet konyana,” Mokandla says, using a Tswanglish colloquialism that describes the mild-mannered cool, calm and collected.

Another virtue that Mokandla attributes to Chitube is superior intelligence. Some of the visual vocabulary that has been used to describe the intellectual genius of George Stephanopoulos, a current American Broadcasting Corporation anchor who served in the Clinton White House, is that “if IQ could be turned into Fahrenheit, that boy would boil.” To massage that description into Mokandla’s estimation of Chitube, the latter conceivably has an IQ that at a conservative estimate, would be equivalent to thrice the temperature on the surface of the sun. Mokandla also remembers Chitube as a devastatingly effective communicator who shifts comfortably between English and Setswana. As a result of this and other attributes, Chitube was fast taking on an Obama-esque aura among BDP youth and the prosperity gospel he was preaching had struck a chord with many, if not most in the party. Mokandla says that at some point, he arranged a meeting between Chitube and youth delegates in Gaborone Bonnington North constituency and the outcome was just what he had hoped for.

“I didn’t attend the meeting myself but when the delegates came out of it, they were all very excited. They were saying this is the man; we can’t vote for anybody else. They were very impressed with what he had to say to them,” he remembers.

At Masunga, Chitube’s personal story and vision had so captured the imagination of the delegates that the congress crowd is said to have been abuzz with Chitube talk.
“Some delegates just wanted to see him,” Mokandla says.

Having earlier harboured profound doubt about Chitube’s chances, at this point the idea that he could actually win had firmed up in Mokandla’s mind. When he returned to the congress venue from Francistown, some 110 kilometres away where he had gone to run a personal errand, Mokandla learnt from other delegates that Chitube had been picked up by agents of the Directorate on Intelligence Services (DIS) “about 15 or 20 minutes ago.” When he enquired as to the reason why, the answer was that Chitube was an illegal migrant who had wormed his way into the BDP through deceit.

The illegal immigrant part was just the tip of the iceberg. By degrees, the submerged part continues to get exposed and it is not a pretty sight. Under any common meaning of the term, Chitube’s self-presentation and public-spirited campaign were fraudulent. This fraud occurred at the intersection of politics, intelligence service and crime – first cousins that live on the same street, exchange visits on a regular (daily) basis and every once so often holiday together in international capitals of the criminal underworld – like Sicily, Italy. If a clich├® would be easier to understand, looks can be deceiving and this assertion gathers its strongest momentum from the subject’s own confession.

Media reports, which the culprit himself has confirmed, are that Chitube is an intelligence services operative who trained in Australia, worked undercover for DIS and seems to have connived with the BDP (the guardian of state resources) to reconfigure the profit-sharing formula of diamonds from Debswana mines. Officially, De Beers and the Botswana government, who are partners in Debswana, use a 51-49 percent formula in favour of the latter. Chitube, who has since been deported back home to Zambia, claims that through his DIS-hood, he was part of a diamond-smuggling operation that channeled money to the BDP to finance the party’s 2014 general election campaign. This suggests (but doesn’t prove) that the party may be an unofficial shareholder in Debswana. If Chitube is to be believed, he also has extraordinary cyber capabilities. By his own account, he managed to tap the cellphone of the Director of DIS, Isaac Kgosi, amassing a treasure trove of information that he would probably use as all-purpose insurance farther down the road.

At the time of his arrest, Chitube had not officially entered the race for chairperson because the election officer had yet to issue the call for candidates to submit names. Three months after the fact, Mokandla retains the conviction that had Chitube thrown his hat in the ring, he would have used his masterful gifts to neuter his opponents – Andy Boatile, Thabo Autlwetse and Mpho Setuke. The Chief of Stuff believes that such possibility would have been greatly enhanced if each candidate had been given an opportunity to address the delegates.

“That guy has a silver tongue and would have convinced delegates that he was the right man,” says Mokandla, who despite revelations about the guy, is clearly still enamoured of him.
Curiously for someone running for public office, Chitube kept to the shadows, demurring when Mokandla suggested that he call a press conference to publicise his campaign. The two men haven’t spoken since the Masunga incident and it is likely that when they do, Mazabathi will raise the issue of the money Chitube still owes him. Mokandla used his own car to travel to and from Masunga, refuelling it from his own pocket. Chitube (who bummed a ride with a party member) promised to reimburse him later, which reimbursement would have happened when Mokandla returned from Francistown.


Read this week's paper