When the Umbrella or Democratic Change (UDC) unveiled Phenyo Butale as the man who will replace the late Gomolemo Motswaledi as the party’s new parliamentary candidate in Gaborone Central, many political pundits opined that he was a political novice who would be summarily trounced by Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s Dumelang Saleshando.
In fact, one of the BCP supporters said by fielding Butale against Saleshando, the UDC was bringing a knife to a gun fight. They described Butale as a political novice who would be no match for Saleshando.
But the UDC candidate is not fazed. In fact, he remains calm and confident and maintains his stance that he is only here “to finish a race that was started by a great man, Gomolemo Motswaledi.”
Butale said there is no doubt in his mind that he made the right decision and expressed his readiness to bite the bullet for Motswaledi and deliver the Gaborone Central constituency for the UDC.
“I am here to fight for the democratic ideals that Motswaledi stood for. Though I enter the race as it nears the end, there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision because this country has been derailed and must be steered back onto the right track. I am sure that I am up to the task because the UDC leadership and supporters are behind me,” he said.
It was not an easy decision for Butale to leave his cushy job as the Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) in Johannesburg, South Africa to campaign in Gaborone Central, but he was driven by a hunger to serve his country and influence change in the lives of others.
“It could have been very easy for me to choose the bright lights of the big city of Johannesburg over a treacherous assignment that may even endanger my own life. But life only begins to be meaningful if you change the situation for others. Life would be so meaningless if we were to pursue our individual agendas and watch our country burn. I was driven by a desire to serve and that’s why I am here,” said Butale.
He laughed off suggestions that he was a political novice who would be outclassed by Saleshando, saying he has always been a permanent feature in the world of politics. He explained that he is a seasoned media and political activist who is also very enlightened on issues of national interest and public service. For him, the race for Gaborone Central is not new because he has always been a part of it.
“I am not entering any new race. Neither am I here to start anything new. I am simply taking the baton to finish a race that was started by a great man. Anyone could be called upon to jump to the finish line because the race has been run and it has been run well,” he said.
Butale also called upon Batswana to support the cause of the UDC which aims to restore Botswana to its glory days as the beacon of democracy, peace and tranquility. He added that the country has derailed from its democratic ideals and it needs people who are ready to sacrifice their lives.
He explained that he has never been afraid of sharing his thoughts on the direction that this country was taking and cautioning against the follies of derailing from the democratic ideals on which Botswana was founded. It was therefore inevitable, said Butale, that one day he would be called upon to now to lead from the front and direct the masses towards the direction of democratic prosperity. Though he admits that he has always been affiliated to a political party, Butale insists that he has never allowed his political affiliation to cloud his professional line of work. He is also a fierce proponent of a strong and united opposition.
“I am a member of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) because it has always resonated with my ideologies. Like I said, I am a supporter of opposition unity and there is no way I could be associated with those who are against a united opposition,” he said.
Butale also believes Botswana should be a just society that builds and nurtures democracy, respects a free press and lays a foundation that allows freedom of expression. By profession, Butale is a media practitioner who has worked at Radio Botswana in the news section and as a current affairs producer at Botswana Television, where he conducted election debates. He is also a former Country Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana and is currently employed as Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression Institute in South Africa. On his employment at the state media, Butale said it was never easy to work in such a tightly controlled environment and expressed his sympathies to the “wonderful professionals who are employed at mass media complex but sadly under very difficult conditions.”
There can be no doubt that a tough race lies ahead for Butale as the general elections draw near, but the parliamentary candidate is confident that he has what it takes.
“I am very much alive to what lies ahead for me. But there comes a time when one has to sacrifice himself for the good of the nation. Motswaledi taught all of us about self sacrifice. In his life, he showed us that no matter what obstacles we may face there is always victory. I step up fearlessly but very much alive to the challenges that lie ahead. But I am comforted by the fact that victory is imminent,” he said.