Bellicose, outright hostilities, conflagration, ÔÇô these are some of the phrases former Vice president Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe uses to describe the factional animosities that are tearing the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) apart.
In his autobiography ÔÇô The General ÔÇô Merafhe’s says, the factional fighting in the BDF is long past “occasional rifts and feuds, spats and squabbles” and has erupted into outright hostilities that threaten to tear the party apart.
Merafhe speaks mostly about his stormy relationship with former BDP chairman Daniel Kwelagobe during the President Masire era, but insists that even now, “factions within the BDP have not attenuated. If the opposition has made gains inside parliament, it is largely the result of chronic infighting within the BDP than on the strength of their own merits. Maybe one day factionalism will fizzle out and be a little more than a footnote in the annals of Domkrag. But it will take something close to a miracle to forever nip it in the bud. Something that has been living and breathing for more than a generation cannot be entirely extinguished overnight.”
Even from his grave, Merafhe could not resist taking pot shots at Kwelagobe. The media referred to Kwelagobe as BDP strongman. Merafhe says “Perhaps this appellation went to his head. He was implacably intolerant of even constructive view different from his. He seemed to believe that his position on any issue was canonical and therefore had to be tamely embraced by everyone in the party. Everybody was expected to toe his line. If you did not, if you showed a principled independence of mind, woe betides you. You were tactfully blacklisted by him and other members of his troika, namely the then Vice President of Botswana Peter Mmusi and Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri.” Merafhe says the emergence of a counter-faction, the one to which I belonged, was reactive.
It was both a protest an antidote to the tyranny and excesses of the other faction, which in time was to call itself Barata Phathi, meaning those who love the party, a most incongruous choice of name given that this faction seemed hell-bent on dividing rather than uniting the party. Tracing the origin of the BDP infighting, Merafhe says “clearly, factionalism did not begin with Kwelagobe and Merafhe. It dated back to the Seretse Khama era. The only difference was that in the Masire era, it became more voluble, more bellicose and therefore much more discernible. In the waning years of Seretse’s rule, the powder keg was laid.
In the Masire dispensation, the fuse was lit and a conflagration ensued.” He says at the height of factionalism in BDP during President Masire’s tenure, he did try to get Daniel Kwelagobe and me to mend fences. This he did both directly and through intermediaries. Once a party retreat was even arranged for this purpose. Regrettably, all the president’s efforts came to naught. Masire’s mediation could not bear fruit because the perception in our faction was that he had undeclared loyalties with Barata Phathi and that they were the ones who prevented him from firmly stamping his authority on the party. He was not exactly at their back and call but his sympathies seemed to lie with them.
Ponatshego Kedikilwe, who replaced me as Minister of Presidential Affairs and public Administration, was actually the factional sage. In fact, in his memoirs Masire underlines that Kwelagobe was promoting Kedikilwe for the post of vice president.