For the first time in a long time ÔÇô perhaps not since the days of Kenneth Koma, one could not help but come to the conclusion that the position of Leader of Opposition was being restored to a pedestal of maximal consequence in our democratic set up.
Botsalo Ntuane’s speech was rich in substance as it was eloquent in the style with which it was delivered.
He was responding to an earlier State of the Nation Address by President Ian Khama.
The sheer quality of the presentation, delivery and content deserves some serious remark.
On economics, on national unity, on social welfare, on the alcohol levy, on foreign diplomacy and on inner party democracy, the speech could not fairly be accused of failing to strike a popular cord with the prevailing national mood.
The speech’s humanitarian intent was clear from the onset.
He set the tone, as usual by reminding us why BDP had recently split, before settling on his favourite mantra of just how far his BMD has saved Botswana from the jaws of the BDP caprice.
It is commonly agreed, though far from being admitted in public, that a BDP split derailed a programme that was meant to literally and ruthlessly obliterate the country’s civil liberties.
Among key but hollow conventional assumptions Ntuane’s speech was specifically designed to overturn was that only the BDP can run this country and that only Ian Khama is a true patriot.
Vice President Mompati Merafhe, to his credit, sat through the entire speech and swallowed the bitter medicine he was administered even as other ministers on the front bench left – clearly ashamed as pound by pound Ntuane catalogued the excesses under which the once enviable BDP has become submerged.
From the press gallery, I could discern reluctant nods of approval from Ndelu Seretse as Ntuane passionately shot down a joke that passes for the Intelligence Tribunal ÔÇô a BDP sub committee, he actually called it.
Before he resigned from cabinet to fight a career threatening graft charge, Seretse was a minister responsible for the very intelligence services Ntuane said were embroiled in what amounted to public relations firefighting.
Seretse is a very reasonable man who has found himself entangled in a heartless field of politics for which his personal demeanour is totally unsuited.
After a successful career in the army, he should have confined his energies and time growing his businesses and serving the Lord, his first passion.
But the mere fact that even this well known Khamarite could not resist admiring Ntuane’s speech went far enough in demonstrating that the Leader of Opposition had been wise to leave out the hard-line agenda that is so often a hallmark of his politics.
He reminded the House and the Nation that BDP’s glory days are over ÔÇô probably for good.
Ever since the split, the BDP is a party with many psychological barriers to overcome.
What is left, he added, is a hangover from a nostalgic past, a recovery from which will be made none the easier by what he called an imperial president.
It was at this point that perhaps coincidentally the parliament camera beamed on the rather dumbstruck Philip Masimolole and Patrick Makgalemele ÔÇô two lost souls on whose behalf I think the nation should continue to say a prayer every morning rather than chastise and ridicule. I figured that not for the first time, the duo’s loyalty was torn between the BDP and BMD. I hope neither of them defects yet again!
I grinned when the Leader of Opposition took a swipe at Khama’s shameless attempts to even privatize patriotism.
I have never really been able to fully understand President Khama’s near absolute belief that he is the most if not the only patriotic citizen in this country.
What surprises me even more is to see him wholeheartedly believe in this rather bizarre assumption.
It’s a behaviour I suspect is best left to psychologists.
Throughout the speech, Ntuane harped on the stark disjuncture between government words and deeds on economic policy.
He punched holes on government’s rhetoric to empower citizens, economically.
The disjunction theme was extended perhaps with greater gusto to government’s half hearted attempts to fight official corruption.
But it was when he talked about national unity, political tolerance and the use of “hate speech” that the Leader of Opposition was at his best element.
He requested Phandu Skelemani to retract statements he made at a BDP public rally held in Tsamaya a few months ago where Batswana of Zimbabwean origin had been advised to cross back to their mother country.
For his part Ian Khama was requested to substantiate his claims of a looming civil war.
It is however not entirely clear if Ntuane could have been referring to the Botswana National Front when he said BMD had no wish to remain in opposition for ever.
What is clear though is that all issues there raised are weighty matters which in time will go a long way to reassure the nation that at long last we have an ambitious opposition that wants to attain state power.
The days of a defacto one party state, which by the way is yet another theme also covered somewhere in the Leader of Opposition’s presentation, may be coming to an end.
One can only wish that instead of each opposition party having to haphazardly present its own little response to the State of the Nation Address in disparate manners like they currently are doing, they would all have adopted and rallied around a good product from someone they should not be ashamed to call one of their own.