It has emerged that in order to bolster his chances of triumphing over his nemesis and successor, former President Ian Khama has quietly weaponised the tribal age-regiment that was formed in his honour when he became Bangwato Paramount Chief in 1979.
Khama stepped down on April 1 last year and was automatically succeeded by his Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi. Whereas Khama had expected Masisi to make his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama Vice President, Masisi instead settled for Slumber Tsogwane who had been the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. A month later, Masisi dramatically fired Khama’s long-time aide and head of the then dreaded Directorate of Intelligence Services, Colonel Isaac Kgosi. While received wisdom is that Masisi and Khama started feuding after the latter development, Sunday Standard learns that the saga that we are currently seeing unravelled the moment Khama learned that Masisi had “betrayed” him. He is supposed to have used that exact word when he started mobilising his age-regiment to join a political battle he wanted to wage against Masisi.
That battle started in the first week of April last year, went through several stages and culminated with the formation of the Botswana Patriotic Front. Tswana regiments are fiercely loyal to their leader and endeavour to protect him at all costs. Khama has sought to portray himself as a victim of an overzealous successor who wants to “bury the Khamas” as he publicly said, deny him retirement benefits that he is entitled to as a former head of state and humiliate him at every turn. Resultantly, the regiment, which has essentially been co-opted into BPF, has been pressed into service of an unusual kind. Ever since the introduction of party politics, tribal regiments have been apolitical and still are in other Tswana tribes.
However, the regiment is not openly campaigning for BPF and while it has stayed away from the rough-and-tumble of freedom-square politics, it is quietly doing underground campaign work for the party.
While they are assembled around a leader whom they protect at all costs, age-regiments exist to serve tribal interest and it is on such basis that some members have elected to keep a distance not just from the BPF campaign but the regiment itself. One says that he is keeping a distance from the regiment because it was never meant to be a political tool but glue that binds the tribe.
“Politics is divisive and once introduced to the regiment, will not just divide us as members not but as a tribe,” he says. “We joined this regiment with a very clear understanding that we would serve tribal and not political interest. We come from different political parties but leave our politics out of regimental business. From now on, we are going to view each other in terms of political affiliation.”
The politicization of the regiment fits neatly into a pattern of Khama conflating tribal affairs with his personal politics and using tribal resources in the process. He remained Bangwato Paramount Chief when he joined politics in 1998 and would garb Kgosi Kgafela II of the Bakgatla in such capacity. When the process to form BPF started, Khama invited the tribe to a public meeting in his capacity as its tribal leader but the meeting, which was attended by the regent, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, dealt exclusively with ruling-party politics and his personal enmity with Masisi.