Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mpotokwane and Mphanyane: A tribute to the duo’s swan-song opposition unity efforts

In just a little over two months the Umbrella for Democratic Change will lose its greatest electoral asset ÔÇô Ian Khama.

He is retiring after ten years as State President. During that time he set on motion a string of policy pronouncements that while costing his party badly rewarded the opposition handsomely.

Khama’s billed successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi will no doubt have to set himself on a path of repealing, sweetening and even publicly ridiculing some of the ill thought out policies that Khama had come to prize.

Khama was no doubt a prized asset for the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change.

Sadly for the opposition, Khama’s departure coincides with a period of heightened uncertainties, divisions and even open warfare within its ranks.

2014 was no doubt a high point in ambitions to wreak a united opposition.

The resultant public mood of euphoria catapulted the nation to look to the future with hope and a spirit of revival.

For a moment, before it all started to go adrift, there were real expectations that a possibility of state power changing hands in Botswana was for the first time within grasp.

That was then.

With all these playing out, one cannot help but zero in on what by now could possibly be playing out inside the minds of two men who played a huge but sadly unacknowledged roller-coaster role in bringing this country’s opposition to where it is today.

These two men are Lebang Mpotokwane and Emang Mothabane Maphanyane.

These are the two men whose lengthy and tedious involvement in opposition unity has become part of our national canon of political party reference.

Are these two men happy and content with what they have achieved thus far? Or they are dejected and depressed by what they see playing out in our politics? Is the current political scenario exactly what the two of them had envisaged when they first set out to unite opposition parties across the country some two decades ago? What in their view are the chances of a change of Government during their life time? What are their views on recent public attacks on them by those same people they had worked so hard and at no personal gain to themselves bring together?  Are the two of them dispirited by what they see playing out? Or, put more charitably, are they excited by prospects of an opposition takeover?

Whatever the answers to this array of questions, one thing has been misunderstood: Mpotokwane and Maphanyane did not work so hard to unite the opposition because they were driven by petty hatred for the Botswana Democratic Party.

For many Batswana it is only just dawning now that you do not change a Government for the sake of it.

For Mpotokwane and Maphanyane it was always a clear case that if it was to be worth it, a change of Government had to result in substantive gains for all citizens.

The two men had hoped that the project to which they had dedicated so much of their time and energies would in the end live to mirror the way they had lived their own private lives; hard work, fairness, justice, public service, honesty, integrity and humility.

That tragically has not been the case.

The two men, as indeed was the case with multitudes of other like-minded Batswana of goodwill believed that opposition would itself have to be led by men and women of honour and integrity.

If not, why go through so much pain and hard work of replacing the BDP with worse substitutes!

Recent behavior by opposition leaders has fallen far too short below the bar.

The behavior of opposition leaders has not lived up to the high standards set by Mpotokwane and Maphanyane.

Where they are not worse, the general behavior by opposition leaders has blurred what distinction was expected between them and the BDP.

It is not just Mpotokwane and Maphanyane who are worried by this development ÔÇô all of us are anxious if not outright confused and outraged. Those inside the UDC deny a crisis. But the stasis playing out is there for all to see.

For two people who have led a process of opposition unity through a tumultuous and often tempestuous moments Mpotokwane and Maphanyane have recently been subjected to public humiliation after they called on procedure during the now tainted admission of Botswana Congress Party into the UDC.

Both Mpotokwane and Maphanyane have said they were not averse to BCP joining the UDC; far from it.

In fact genuine opposition unity ÔÇô shorn of current facades and bad faith is something the two men have worked towards for almost twenty years now.

All they had wanted was for BCP to join UDC procedurally, not through the backdoor.

The two insisted on honesty and processers.

They said any joining of the UDC had to be subjected to agreed rules.

That was interpreted as an insults especially by those that had in the past spurned unity efforts.

The result was public insults on the two men that had at so much cost to themselves and no gain, worked at creating UDC.

Talk of thanklessness in politics!

Their energies are ebbing away and their health no longer at best.

The composure with which both of them received such insults is both astonishing and admirable.

They responded with utmost honesty, humility, and genuineness as they always have been.

That has been so because neither of the two men is given to grandeur and pretence that are so much a character of our current opposition leaders.

During his public service career Mpotokwane reached the highest echelons of the civil service ÔÇô having been among the first crop of citizens to earn a university degree.

One of the country’s earliest career diplomats he also worked as the founding president’s private secretary and also became a permanent secretary.

Maphanyane is no less a man. Those who know him say he is one of the country’s foremost cattle barons. He has previously worked as Chief Executive of a leading parastatal, before then having established himself as a leading economist at the ministry of finance.

They two men are likely to be the most disappointed by current turn of events in opposition, not least because more than many, they are the ones who put in a lot of energy and endless numbers of long hours in the project.

They did not personally want positions. They did not want careers from a UDC in power. And they certainly did not expect financial or material gains.

As we point out above, both have had illustrious careers.

Having made their money a long time back ÔÇô they did not expect anything from a UDC government; a total contrast to too many we see today in UDC leadership positions.

We cannot reiterate enough that Lebang Mpotokwane and Mothabane Maphanyane do not need a UDC Government for them to live well.

They could easily have stayed away from opposition politics and continued to enjoy their well earned wealth.

But their conscience and patriotism ÔÇô two attributes markedly lacking among many in UDC leadership, would not allow them.

Such people are and they certainly deserve some respect!

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper