Thapelo Olopeng, the man who some sections of the media have put at the centre of a sinister plot by the ruling party to get rid of Member of Parliament for Tonota, Pono Moatlhodi, has denied the charges, saying he has never expressed interest in standing for Tonota.
“I was not even in the race for the primary elections. Some people have always wanted me to stand. I have politely resisted such calls because conditions are not right. Also, I have business interests here which want my full attention,” he told the Sunday Standard.
A close personal friend and advisor to President Ian Khama from their military days, the reclusive Olopeng is often portrayed as a powerful hand behind most of the key decisions taken by government and the ruling party.
Like Moatlhodi, Olopeng hails from Tonota.
Together with retired senior public servant Kenneth Matambo, Olopeng’s name was mooted as possible replacements for Moatlhodi.
While not denying that he and Moatlhodi have never really been the closest of political soul mates, Olopeng says he has, in the past, come to Moatlhodi’s defence whenever he felt that the maverick MP was being unfairly slighted.
“I have in the past come to Moatlhodi’s defence. It is unfair for the media to ignore these facts and instead focus on creating a false impression that the BDP is trying to shoo me in at Moatlhodi’s expense,” said Olopeng.
Reluctantly, Olopeng admits that his name keeps cropping up because of his ties to the President.
“I cannot deny that the President and myself are close. We have come a long way long before we joined politics. But what pains me is that whenever a decision is taken either by the party or the government a perception is created, often by the media, that Olopeng must be behind it.”
He says some of the allegations and perceptions about him have caused him and his family a lot of pain.
“I would be na├»ve to want to be a replacement for Moatlhodi under the present contaminated conditions. Perceptions have been created that Moatlhodi is being recalled because space has to be created for some favoured individual. That is not true and for obvious reasons I would not want to be the individual to replace Moatlhodi now. I am not the kind of person who would want to go in under such contaminated circumstances,” Olopeng said.
Interestingly, though, occupying fiercely opposing sides of local politics in Tonota, Moatlhodi and Olopeng are distant cousins.
The BDP recalled Moatlhodi after the outspoken MP complained that government was militarizing the public service.
The party has since reversed its own decision.
This week, the BDP Secretary General denied allegations that the party was forced to go back on its earlier decision because of failed attempts to get a credible replacement for Moatlhodi.
Other than fears of creating new factional fissures, there were also realities that Moatlhodi could stand as an independent or, in worst case scenario, lose the constituency to the opposition BNF.