Cabinet ministers have blurred the lines between the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and government following an alleged instruction from President Ian Khama to campaign for the party in an apparent bid to shore up the BDP’s declining fortunes in Molepolole North.
The constituency, traditionally held by the BDP is among 25 constituencies identified in a confidential BDP document as likely to be won by the opposition. BDP Member of Parliament for the constituency, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri now finds himself on slippery ground following the BDP acrimonious Bulela Ditswe primary elections which have divided the party’s marginal majority in the constituency. This is not the first time that the BDP leadership instructed ministers to lead campaign teams to retain a constituency. In 2013 during Letlhakeng West by-elections, the party leadership directed all cabinet ministers to lead teams to retain the constituency.
Sunday Standard has learnt that President Khama gave cabinet ministers leave days from 9th to 13 June as part of an effort to tout for votes ahead of the General Elections to be held in October. The campaign strategy, complete with timelines, shows that Assistant Minister of Health, Gloria Somolekae would on 24 January hold a kgotla meeting in one of the wards in Molepolole North, followed by President Khama himself who will also hold a kgotla meeting on 26 July in one of the wards in the same constituency. Last month Assistant Minister for Local Government and Rural Development Olebile Gaborone also held a meeting at Borakalalo Ward in Molepolole North while Assistant Minister for Agriculture Oreeditse Molebatsi held another meeting on 10th June in the constituency. On the same day Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Peter Siele was also holding a meeting at St Paul/Boswelakoko ward which is also part of the Molepolole North constituency.
The ministers who had been instructed to sell President Khama’s poverty eradication and social programmes roped in Bakwena Kgosikgolo Kgari Sechele III to attend the meetings in the wards. This was a break from tradition where kgotla meetings are held at the Bakwena main kgotla. Contacted for comment, Siele said he addressed the meeting at Boswelakoko at Matlhabaphiri’s request. “The MP made an arrangement with Kgosikgolo Kgari and agreed that the meeting be held there,” he said. Siele said the meeting was well attended adding that “we are taking services to the people.” Asked why the meeting was not held at the main Kgotla, Siele said “that one you can ask the MP because we were invited but what I can tell you is that people were happy.” Molebatsi could not be reached for comment on Friday.
For his part, Matlhabaphiri confirmed that President Khama and Somolekae are scheduled to hold meetings in some of the wards in his constituency. He defended the decision to invite ministers to hold meetings in council wards saying he had consulted with the tribal leadership and he was given the go ahead. “It is true that I requested Siele and Molebatsi to come and address kgotla meetings in my constituency after consultation with the tribal leadership,” he said. Molebatsi said he had explained to the tribal leadership that since the main kgotla was in Molepolole South, some of his constituents “sometimes miss those meetings because they have to travel long distances.”
While he admitted that his constituency is one of the BDP constituencies that need “attention all the time,” Matlhabaphiri described as unfounded, reports that the meetings held by ministers and President Khama were aimed at propping up his fortunes. “This constituency has not been easy to win, if you look back from 2004 and 2009 elections. I know that I must work hard to win it; you will find that it is not easy like Molepolole South. My constituency needs a lot of work because it is made up of people from different communities. But that the ministers and President’s meetings are meant to woo voters in my favour is an unfortunate statement,” he said. The Molepolole North legislator added that “ministers have all along been holding meetings in my area. Even when Lesego Motsumi was the Health Minister; she once held a kgotla meeting in Suping ward.” Kgosi Kgari said Matlhabaphiri had consulted him and briefed him that he had invited ministers to hold meetings in his constituency.
“I told him that I did not have a problem with that. It is true that in most cases, kgotla meetings are held at the main kgotla but I don’t know why he chose to hold them in wards under his constituency,” he said. Reports that the BDP leadership has directed ministers to lead teams to retain Molepolole North come at a time when its councillor for Boswelakoko ward, Seka Kgosiemang resigned from the party on Tuesday and decided to stand as an independent candidate. Bashi Kgakge won the primary elections late last year, with just one vote, getting 147 while Seka Kgosiemang got 146.
Initially the two candidates were reportedly tied at 146 votes but “later on one of the votes was discovered from the parliamentary ballot boxes and it was supposed to be a spoilt vote but it was awarded to Kgakge.” Kgosiemang confirmed that she has resigned from the BDP and will contest the upcoming General Elections as an independent candidate. ”It is true, I resigned from the BDP on Tuesday,” she said. The UDC has three councillors in the constituency while the BDP has four. In the 2009 General Elections, Matlhabaphiri defeated BNF candidate, Mahommed Khan with a margin of slightly more than 600 votes. Reports show that Botswana National Front Youth Secretary General Arafat Khan who will be vying for a council seat under Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) ticket has also made inroads in Borakalalo ward.
Reports further indicate that Khan and his followers walked out on Molebatsi at the meeting he addressed on Tuesday. BDP Secretary General Secretary, Sechele Sechele, confirmed that Kgosiemang has reigned from the party. “She had launched an appeal and later it was discovered that there were no irregularities in the primary elections and she decided to resign,” he said. Sechele said the party was ‘hurt’ by Kgosiemang’s resignation adding that “she served the party as a councillor for long time.” However he was confident that the BDP will retain Molepolole North constituency.