Strangely for someone who has publicly expressed desire to have Ndaba Gaolathe back in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) by the end of this year, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, is speaking to everyone but Gaolathe himself.
Not for the first time has Masisi spoken about a BDP plan to lure Gaolathe back to a party that he left in 2011 to co-found the Botswana Movement for Democracy which, years later, is part of a loose confederation known as the Umbrella for Democratic Change. When launching the candidacy of Elijah Katse for an upcoming bye-election in the Tlokweng constituency, Masisi claimed Gaolathe as one of their (BDP) own.
“Ndaba Gaolathe is ours. We are going to make sure he joins the Botswana Democratic Party before the end of this year. Don’t question me because I know exactly what I am talking about. I am talking about it confidently and I want those in UDC to hear that,” our sister paper, The Telegraph, quotes Masisi saying at the Tlokweng event.
The Vice President’s words give the impression that some kind of secret talks are underway and that Gaolathe is definitely headed back to the UDC. However, what Gaolathe himself says contradicts Masisi. As BMD president and Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Gaolathe will not be recruited by the chairperson of the Gaborone Region but the top leadership of the party. Once before, the BDP has recruited a senior opposition figure (the Vice President of the Botswana National Front) and from what Sunday Standard learns, President Ian Khama, was directly involved in such recruitment. It can only be so because the involvement of the party leadership is an indication of how much a recruitee is valued as a political asset. On the basis of that standard, Khama and Masisi will necessarily be involved in Gaolathe’s recruitment. However, Gaolathe denies any such engagement with the BDP leadership. He says that he has not met either Khama or Masisi to discuss his personal role in Botswana’s politics.
“In fact, the last time I sat and had a brief chat with the President of Botswana was at my late sister’s funeral, in 2005, when he was still Vice President,” Gaolathe says.
On the other hand, the MP would have a closer working relationship with Masisi who, as Vice President, is the Leader of the House. Gaolathe says that he treats Masisi, whom he has known since his student days, as an “elder brother.” That figures. Masisi is the son of the late Moshupa MP who was in the first republic cabinet and Gaolathe the son of one of the first senior civil servants and former finance minister, Baledzi Gaolathe. If Botswana is a small place, Gaborone is a smaller place and the area around State House, one of its exclusive residential addresses where political and businesses leaders live, the smallest. The other revelation that Gaolathe makes is that he has not hand a “one-on-one meeting” with Masisi “since he joined politics.” Masisi joined parliament in 2009 and on a strict interpretation on what joining politics means in his particular case, (cultivating base support, declaring candidacy, campaigning and contesting in a primary election), he would have joined politics in the latter part of 2007 or early part of 2008. To be clear, this is our determination of the timeline, not Gaolathe’s. However, that doesn’t mean that VP and MP don’t meet.
“I meet him often on the parliamentary floor and at the tea room where we often exchange views and ideas albeit briefly. It is his brother, the late Tshelang Masisi, that I not only met often but also shared life with,” Gaolathe says.
Until his death in 2013, the other Masisi was Francistown West MP. The BDP bungled its opportunity to participate in the subsequent bye-election, handing Masisi’s seat to Botswana Congress Party’s Dr. Habaudi Hubona on a silver platter. While she made history as the first woman MP in the opposition, Hubona also had one of the shortest parliamentary stints, being trounced by Ignatius Moswaane of the BDP in the 2014 general election.
The headline from what Gaolathe says would be “BDP’s Top Leaders Haven’t Met Opposition Leader They are Recruiting in a Combined 22 Years.” However, while he has not had one-one-one meetings with either Khama or Masisi, Gaolathe says that he has met “veterans of the ruling party at the shops, on the streets and at their homes.” He doesn’t reveal the identities of those veterans, only that even that they are supportive of the role that he is playing in national politics.
“Most of them pray for me and the path I have chosen to serve on. They are happy with the life choices I have made and continue to make. One or two of these veterans express the wish that they would have loved to see me serve elsewhere, as part of the current government or as part of a high-impact corporate institution. I listen to all of them and bask in their admiration, wondering about the immense attention and love I receive from people of all walks of life. It is indeed a high privilege for me, for which I am grateful,” Gaolathe says.
The one other thing that he is grateful for is the “immense honour to serve the UDC and the people of Botswana.” In other words, serve the people of Botswana through the UDC because, at least according to what he says, nothing suggests Gaolathe wants to iron out the creases in his old red T-shirts.
“My focus is to assist our movement, the UDC, attain a new Botswana, and nothing else. I am a servant of the people, I am a loyal and disciplined cadre of the UDC, and what a privilege it is. I would not abandon a movement for which victory is certain in 2019 – and victory is certain for the UDC – and the people of Botswana,” he asserts.
The MP is well aware of the fact that what Masisi and other BDP leaders have publicly stated has “aroused spirited discussion in newspapers and social media.” This interview is the first of a push-back effort and he plans to hop on social media platforms soon.