Tonota South Member of Parliament, Pono Moatlhodi, won a resounding victory against the Botswana Democratic Party’s Central Committee (CC) decision to recall him and bar him from contesting the 2009 general elections.
Hundreds of democrats thronged the Panorama Hall in Tonota and unanimously told the Central Committee representatives, among them Secretary General Jacob Nkate and Party Chairman Daniel Kwelagobe, that they will stand by their maverick MP and disregard their decision to recall him.
This follows last Tuesday’s BDP CC decision to recall Moatlhodi after he was found guilty of gross indiscipline and unbecoming behavior, and for defying an agreement made by the party caucus.
Moatlhodi is also said to have irked the CC when he expressed concern at the government’s militarization of the public service, specifically the recent decision to ignore serving officers and head hunt an army official to head the Botswana Prisons Service.
Three days ago, the BDP CC overturned Moatlhodi’s appeal and a delegation, comprising of Nkate, Kwelagobe and Executive Secretary Comma Serema, was dispatched to Tonota to deliver the news to the electorates.
Hundreds of BDP faithful and some opposition party members braved the drizzle and waited patiently for the arrival of the central committee representatives. Moatlhodi arrived in style, amid fanfare and ululations from his supporters.
Hours before the BDP delegation arrived, Moatlhodi made his rounds at the hall, receiving accolades and assurances of support.
At some point, the theatrical MP broke into tears, evoking sympathy and support from his supporters who assured him that they would stand by him all the way. Some irate members said publicly that they would disregard the CC, and encouraged Moatlhodi to stand as an independent candidate if the BDP leadership refused to withdraw their decision.
The arrival of the delegates was greeted with a deafening silence, and almost all of them ignored the maverick MP when they shuffled to the top table. Even initial attempts to arouse the masses with the “Tsholetsa Domkrag!” slogan were not met with the usual pomp. Unlike the delegates and branch committee members, Moatlhodi’s introduction was met with a five-minute-long standing ovation and it was clear from the onset that the masses had decided to rally behind their MP.
Pandemonium broke out when some members of the BDP called for the masses to clear the hall so that only card carrying members be allowed to attend the meeting. People refused to budge saying that Moatlhodi is not a BDP MP but a Tonota MP and, therefore, the BDP’s decision to recall him also affected them. Some Democrats also argued that the matter could not be regarded as an internal party issue as the CC had made it public when they discussed Moatlhodi’s expulsion with the media even before they addressed the MP and his constituents. Francistown region chairperson, Botho Ntirang, who was chairing the proceedings, finally allowed the meeting to continue.
When he stood up to speak, Jacob Nkate explained the grounds for Moatlhodi’s dismissal. The Secretary General was forced to quote Moatlhodi’s utterances from the Hansard and ululations erupted when he read out the part that says “… ga ke dumalane le se se dirwang gompieno ko ministering wa gago rraetsho Siele, go tswa go tsewa lesole le tla go etelela lephata la Dikgolegelo. Ga ke dumalane le selo seo ka lebaka la gore go na le batho, bo Senior Superintendent, Bo-Assistant Superintendent, bo Superintendent ba ba ntseng ba na le tsholofelo ya gore le bone ba eletsa go ipona e le bo Commissioner of Prisons. Re tswa go tsaya lesole fela kwa…E seng gone moo fela, maikaelelo a bo Superintendent ba eletsa go ipona ba le kwa, fa re ya go tsaya lesole re mo tsenya mo maemong a bo Commissioner ka mantswe a mangwe re ba raya re re lona ba le fa forget about ascending, forget about going up…yone training fela ya sesole is different from training ya batho ba Prison. Kwa Prisons we teach people to rehabilitate the prisoners, ko Botswana Defence Force we teach people to receive commands and to deal with the enemy. Ke a kopa bagaetsho, fa gone ke a kopa ke a rapela a ko re boneng gore re a tlhokomela”.
After Nkate’s presentation, the BDP faithful made it clear that they did not see anything wrong with Moatlhodi’s utterances. They said that the CC had erred when making a decision to recall Moatlhodi without consulting the electorate. They told the delegates that they believed that the masses wield more power than the central committee and it is up to the people to decide who will represent them in 2009. Various speakers also told the delegates to their face that they do not endorse the CC’s decision.
Tonota South constituents also said that the decision to recall Moatlhodi is a result of his long standing acrimonious relationship with the branch committee and it is unfair for the CC to make a decision without giving Moatlhodi a fair hearing.
They said that they were never consulted even when the branch committee decided to vet Moatlhodi out of contesting the BDP primaries and when the CC wrote him a warning letter.
“It is sad that the CC has all along been making such far reaching decisions without consulting us. It is against the principle of democracy. We are not going to vote again because we have made it clear that we want Moatlhodi to represent us in 2009,” speaker after speaker said.
However, some members said that Moatlhodi should be forgiven and given a chance to represent the masses because they had voted for him. Nkate was booed when he said that even though the CC could reverse their initial decision they would be abrogating their responsibility if they let a party member run truant just because he is loved by the masses. At the end of the meeting, Nkate said that he would take the wishes of the Tonota constituency to the CC so that a decision could be made.
The MP was carried out of the building by his supporters who were celebrating that the wishes of the masses had finally won the day.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard after the meeting, Moatlhodi said that he was very happy with the outcome as the people had made it clear that they wanted him to represent them in 2009. He also said that he remains confident that the BDP would heed the wishes of the masses.
However, Moatlhodi remained steadfast that he stands by statements that he made regarding the militarization of the civil service.
“This is a principle that I truly believe in. It is my wish to see hard working public servants being rewarded for their commitment and not being overlooked in favour of other people,” he said.