Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Motswaledi – Joy in the eye of the storm

If Gomolemo Motswaledi is considering writing his memoirs when he leaves politics, he certainly cannot complain that his career so far has left him short of material. The Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) interim chairman has been at the center of Botswana’s biggest political dramas of the last two years, from the ground breaking law suit against President Lt Gen Ian Khama to the split of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

We are sitting in his modest office at the University of Botswana Administration block and Motswaledi is bubbling with gales of laughter, bits of motivational speak and patches of religious philosophy.

The optimist who goes by the sobriquet Sir G, seems to find joy even in the most painful of situations.

For example, most of the speeches by historical figures that have touched him were made after they were defeated. Notable is the speech made by disgraced American President Richard Nixon when he resigned during the Watergate scandal.

“No speech should radiate negative energy. Even when it is against a regime, it should carry the positive energy of its kind,” he says. And that in a nutshell is Motswaledi’s outlook in life.
If it was not for his streak of optimism and the big smile on his face, Motswaledi’s past twelve months would make for a very grim story: He was suspended from the BDP Central Committee as party Secretary General, dropped from the Gaborone Central parliamentary race on the eve of the 2009 general elections and saddled with a huge legal bill after losing his law suit against President Khama with costs. All these, however, it seemed forced Motswaledi to cross a personal and political line.

He walked out of the court room in Lobatse more like a man going through a rite of passage than walking into a financial and political storm. While some of his battle hardened supporters were throwing up their hands in despair, Motswaledi, would not send a mayday from the eye of the storm. He waited outside the court room with a huge smile and stood as a one man weeping post for tens of hurting supporters who could not take in the High Court decision that a sitting president cannot be sued.

As he stood atop a car bonnet outside the court building, addressing his supporters, nobody could have foreseen that the vanquished BDP Secretary General was, for better or worse, ushering Botswana into a whole new political era.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the chilly morning outside the Lobatse civic hall which passed for the appeals court: scores of BDP parliamentarians, councilors and activists have broken away to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). And the new party is basking in remarkable public goodwill.

“I never thought it would be that much. It challenges us to rise to the occasion,” Motswaledi says before quoting a story from the Bible about wise man who received God talents and went on to multiply them, and the fool who went and buried his talent instead of multiplying it.

“We cannot afford to be fools. There is a challenge that goes with the goodwill you did not expect. It requires humility, hard work, learning, and preparation. We are receiving a moment to learn to be humble, to count these blessings and yet work very hard. God’s blessings abound in measures that are uncountable. It, however, is one thing for God to bless you and another to be disposed to receive God’s blessing.”

Motswaledi is justifying his decision to clear his desk at the University of Botswana (UB) and throw himself at building BMD structures. He will go on a two to three years unpaid leave from the university to give the new party his undivided attention.

He told the Sunday Standard that the UB policy on partisan political activities by employees constrained him from executing his role as chairman of BMD’s executive committee. Regulation 1.9 of the UB policy, bars employees from occupying executive political office.
According to the regulation, any UB employee elected to a political office requiring fulltime service is supposed to apply for leave of absence or resign.

“I have decided to be fair to my employer by taking leave without pay,” said Motswaledi.
He said that he did not expect BMD to pay him but would personally find means to support himself.
“I am putting together a financial plan that will allow me to be of sufficient sustenance,” he said.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and allow yourself to swim than be forever protected,” he added.

“The best jiggle is to stay my job with a view of coming back…my principals have a duty to implement this regulation.”

Motswaledi’s break from his full time job to concentrate on BMD is perhaps the first sign that the new party is leaving no stone unturned as they brace for what promises to be a bruising contest for the hearts and minds of Batswana.

Motswaledi stops short of saying the new party will learn from BDP mistakes.
“We want to entrench a democratic culture of debate where you have a people’s manifesto, not a paternalistic democracy. We want a leadership that looks at itself in a more messengerial light.” Motswaledi says the party will be inviting different interest groups to contribute to the party policies and programme.

In fact, this is the closest he ever comes to criticizing the BDP and its leadership. Instead he says things like, “we are all thankful to the BDP for making us who we are and bringing us where we are.”

He does not bear grudges and blames no one for events leading to the BDP split.
At this stage he becomes philosophical as he explains “a revolution in the BDP was inevitable, and when a revolution comes it looks for excuses.”

In Motswaledi’s books, people like president Khama who are being blamed for the BDP split are just excuses that the revolution presented in order to sweep through the party.
Motswaledi, who comes from the same tribe and village as President Khama, joined BDP at a very young age. Educated at the University of Botswana where he studied humanities, alongside his colleague at the BMD, Botsalo Ntuane, they represented the new breed of university political activists who went against the then popular leftist campus politics as they sought to make the BDP then considered an old age home into a party attractive to youths.

He is a seasoned politician who cut his teeth with the BDP youth cell GS 26, which drew a lot of support from university students. As a right wing politician in a hostile left wing environment, Motswaledi has had plenty experience in politics of hard knocks. His love for politics and music has taken him across the world and won him accolades, most notably being the Presidential Meritorious award.

“I still remember that when I was called by former President Ketumile Masire to receive the award, Khama was seated next to Masire. I remember Khama’s kind and approving smile as I bowed to receive the award. That is the most enduring memory I have of the president.”

It is not surprising that after all the blows, the Khama administration threw at him, Motswaledi still nurtures fond memories of the president. He feeds on a staple of motivational literature like, “The Magic of thinking Big”, “The Art of War” and works of Reverend TD Jakes.
And as he says, “No speech should radiate negative energy.”


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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.