“In the meantime, preparations for the formation of a party are underway in the event these demands are not acceded to and will take place in Selibe Phikwe later this month,” so reads the boldest assertion in a statement that was released on Thursday night by the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) faction aligned to former president Ian Khama.
The demands are as follows: convening an elective congress by end of July 2023, lifting the indefinite suspension of four National Executive Committee members, and responding to these demands by May 14 – next Sunday. The demands are being made by a dissident group within the BPF that includes among its members Khama and former Palapye MP, Master Goya. The group, which calls itself BPF Concerned Group, is essentially made up of members of Khama’s faction, which, beginning last year, has been at war with another faction led by Guma Moyo and now Reverend Biggie Butale, the party president.
A fortnight ago, the High Court resolved (in favour of Butale’s faction) a tug of war that saw each faction trying to take control of the party. On the basis of what Butale is reported to have said at an NEC meeting (that he is resigning), Tshekedi, Khama’s younger brother and the party’s Secretary General, sought to assert his authority. In turn, Butale suspended Tshekedi and three other NEC members – who ignored the suspension upon reasoning that Butale was no longer a BPF member. After winning the case, Butale’s faction cemented its control of the party. From what Sunday Standard learns and as an indication of what lies ahead, the victors have been removing the accounts of members of Khama’s faction from the party’s WhatsApp group.
Following the High Court ruling, Khama’s faction made a rapprochement overtures which, ironically, were tinged with open impatience. In a April 27, 2023 letter whose subject line reads “Reconciliation Measures to Restore Party Unity”, Goya made two demands: the holding of an elective congress no later than May 30, 2023 in place of an extraordinary congress “which has been called unconstitutionally” and the reinstating of all suspended party members “with immediate effect.”
At least for now, it looks like Goya has been earmarked for the presidency of what could be the new party. While the Thursday night statement is unsigned, Goya signed the April 27, 2023 letter (which was addressed to Butale) in his capacity as “Nominated Head of Delegation.” The former Palapye MP was keen to stress that the lifting of the suspensions would be no different from what happened with Butale himself – who was suspended but reinstated late last year as part of a reconciliation deal. The irony of the reinstatement is that at the time, Butale, Khama and Goya were on the same side against a faction led by Moyo. The latter has since left the party after the heated meeting and has been replaced by Butale as faction leader.
The extraordinary congress “which has been called unconstitutionally” took place over the May Day long holiday and made a resolution that is sharply divergent with what Khama’s faction wants – an elective congress by the end of July.
The whole idea of the congress is to have Khama become BPF president but Resolution 7 from last week’s special congress would make that impossible. The resolution says that “the current president and his NEC to continue in office and take the party to the 2024 general election.” In the unlikely event that such resolution is reversed, the party would have to hold another national congress – which is a costly and daunting exercise. The special congress also resolved that “appropriate disciplinary action should be taken against all forms of indiscipline, particularly against those who defy party decisions.” From what party sources say, “appropriate disciplinary action” is coded language for expelling the most recalcitrant members of Khama’s faction.
Plans to form a new party are indeed well underway. A day after the High Court judgement came out, members of Khama’s faction were brainstorming on possible new names. A widely-circulated WhatsApp message lists the following as possible names for the new party: Botswana Republican Party, People’s Patriotic Front, Botswana Freedom Party, Botswana Liberal Party, Botswana Freedom Fighters, Liberation Party, Justice and Development Party, Botswana Economic Party, Botswana Freedom Front and New Dawn.
Supposing the new breakaway party is indeed formed, the battle between the two groups will continue under different circumstances. Last month, Tshekedi lost his seat as Serowe West MP after a year’s absence in parliament. As his elder brother, Khama, and twin brother, Anthony, Tshekedi is currently living in self-imposed exile in South Africa. Tshekedi and Khama – who is BPF’s patron, are conferenced into NEC meetings. Tshekedi tried doing the same thing with parliament meetings but the rules wouldn’t allow him to do that and on April 20, the Speaker, Phandu Skelemani, declared his seat vacant.
It is just a matter of time before a bye-election is held to fill a seat BPF would want to retain and the new party would want to claim for itself. The Khama brothers are scions of the Ngwato royal family – Khama is the kgosikgolo, supreme traditional leader and has earmarked Tshekedi as his successor. There has always been understanding that the BPF did as well as it did in Serowe because of the royal pedigree of the party founder and real leader – Khama. The voters in Serowe West are Khama’s subjects and ever since he went into politics, have always voted the way he wants.
Our understanding is that Tshekedi will not seek re-election but acting in concert with his elder brother, will endorse a candidate they prefer. That candidate will also enjoy the support of all three BPF MPs and councillors – who are all in Khama’s faction. However, there is a downside that could imperil the Khama-backed candidate. Even some of Khama’s most loyal subjects thought forming the BPF was a bridge too far and would consider a new party to be a bridge unreachable. In that regard, there is no guarantee that such candidate would coast to victory. The other possibility is of the BPF and the new party splitting votes and handing victory to the BDP on a silver platter.
On account of a recently introduced law that prohibits floor-crossing, BPF’s MPs and councillors will not be able to join the new party but will certainly be disengaged from the BPF.