The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that after winning the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) primaries, Dithapelo’s loss, if he does lose at the October general elections, would inevitably reverse the youngest party’s growth trajectory.
From humble beginnings in 1999, mogobagoba registered more than 200 000 votes at the last general elections. Formed by 11 parliamentarians who had defected from the Botswana National Front (BNF) in 1998, BCP suffered a humiliating loss in the following general elections, retaining only one seat in Okavango in the general elections, held by the late Joseph Kavindama.
Following the 2001 delimitation, the copper mining town of Selibe-Phikwe got two constituencies of Selibe Phikwe East and West, which were won by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s Nonofo Molefhi and Daisy Pholo respectively in 2004.
At the 2004 polls, BCP continued its poor showing, winning only one constituency of Gaborone Central under Dumelang Saleshando, who marginally beat Margaret Nasha.
In a tremendous comeback, Dumelang’s father, Gilson, who had in 1998 defected with the 11 BNF legislators, beat BDP’s Kavis Kario. Saleshando had been Selibe-Phikwe MP under the Botswana National Front ticket before formation of the BCP in 1998. He had snatched the constituency in 1994 from former education minister Kebatlamang Morake.
AS BCP president, Gilson Saleshando announced his pending retirement from active politics at the end of the current parliamentary term. At the party’s primaries for Selibe-Phikwe, the young Keorapetse beat his three competitors to qualify as the party’s parliamentary candidate for 2014.
In an interview, Keorapetse explained that his readiness for political activism coincided with the formation of the BCP, which he joined in 1999, sometime after it was formed. He added that he was recruited into the BCP by his best friend Olebile Sikwane and the then Thakadiawa councilor Benjamin Bagayi.
On why he chose BCP as his political home, and chose to contest the Selibe-Phikwe West parliamentary primaries instead of a constituency in Gaborone where he is resident as UB lecturer, Dithapelo said he grew up in the mining town and the knows its challenges well.
“I know this place better than any other place and it hurts me to see it left to be ghost a town. I seek to play a part in saving Phikwe from total collapse. The youth of Phikwe are unemployed and underemployed in sectors such as Ipelegeng, Tirelo Setshaba and graduate internship”, he said.
He added,” The mine, which is the mainstay of the town’s economy, pays its workers slave wages and doesn’t care about their welfare. They stay in overcrowded hostels and some share houses with their colleagues while many retire into poverty. Teachers, soldiers and police officers and other civil servants don’t have accommodation and are forced to share with their workmates even though they have families”, said Keorapetse.
He lamented that the town’s economy is not diversified as there is no copper and nickel electro refinery plant in the town.
“I wonder why the technical college was not expanded, why the hospital, airport and stadium were not upgraded. There is need to directly link Selibe Phikwe to Francistown and Martins drift border so that the town benefits from transit traffic. My view is that BIUST should open a mining campus. We have to transform like Gardanne in France”, said the young aspiring politician.
Keorapetse said government must take a deliberate decision to save Phikwe instead of the current rhetoric and false promises.
“Tell me what SPEDU has done, how many manufacturing industries have been opened in Selebi Phikwe and how many people have been employed because of SPEDU?,” he asked.
He added that with his academic background at the university and the DCEC as well his media experience, he is abreast with most challenges facing Selebi Phikwe, and it will be his duty to advocate for tangible developments with potential to create jobs for the unemployed.
For Keorapetse, the need to tackle unemployment is an imperative that needs a young and vibrant legislator like him who will aggressively lobby for establishment of industries with capacity to absorb the unemployed. His take is that there should be an affirmative action policy in the form of preferential procurement from businesses owned by the youth.
“It’s like the people of Selebi Phikwe are cursed but we are not. Our situation is a result of failed policies of the current government. We were deprived of the second university, expansion of the technical college and upgrading of the hospital, airport and stadium. We were promised that ARV and condoms manufacturing plants will be set up here. Actually many manufacturing firms which were set up in the 1990s have collapsed. The residents were promised a large technical college. BOCRA has advertised a tender for the provision of free Wi Fi in shopping malls and conspicuously missing in the list is Selebi-Phikwe. That is underdevelopment at its worst”, said the aspiring legislator.
He is concerned that most businesses in Selebi Phikwe are owned by foreigners while citizens are mere spectators and exploited workers. Keorapetse holds the firm view that sports, recreation and performing arts should be developed to benefit Batswana.
Most distressing is the fact that Botswana’s democracy is regressing and once in parliament he will advocate for democratization of the processes so as to uplift Batswana’s quality of live.
On political funding, he said it should be implemented so that it levels the political playing field. However, he believes funding should be coupled with strong regulation.
He bemoaned the fact that the ruling party is funded by big businesses who seek to protect their business interests in an economy with a minute private sector that heavily relies on the state as a seller, buyer, regulator and worse of all creditor.
Keorapetse remains adamant that once in parliament he will advocate for full independence of the Independent Electoral Commission and Delimitation Commission, change of the electoral system from plurality system to a hybrid of proportional representation and the simple majority system including direct election of the president, codifying of the election date in the constitution, public funding of political parties and regulation of private funding and formation of a broadcaster with an independent board.
On citizen economic empowerment, Keorapetse said other democracies like South Africa spearheaded the Black Empowerment Policy and backed it with a broad based black empowerment act to redress past imbalances.
“BCP proposes a Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy backed by a Citizen Economic Empowerment Act, as opposed to the current situation in which all the mega projects are done by foreign owned companies which in most cases do not finish the projects in time and allocated expenditure,” he said.
When responding to allegations that it was improper for the BCP to withdraw from opposition talks, Keorapetse said he believes the BCP did the right thing.
“As I said, we didn’t withdraw from the umbrella. If we were part of the umbrella, we would not have launched a manifesto because of court cases on issues such as the symbol and the authenticity of one of the major partner’s membership. Who wants to be in the courts when other competitors are busy campaigning? We are a living example of opposition cooperation; we merged with NDF and later BAM and we are open to post electoral cooperation as well as future cooperation,” he said.