A cross-border trip by 10 Botswana Patriotic Front councillors to former president and Bangwato kgosi, Ian Khama, earlier this month has come under controversial focus.
Khama, who is BPF’s founder and patron, fled to South Africa in November 2021, a few hours before what would most certainly have been dramatic arrest by the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security was due to happen. The latter wanted him to hand over “arms of war” in his possession but the two parties never got on the same page about the matter. Khama tells a different story: that he fled because DISS was planning to assassinate him and that orders to do so had come from President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
While he has been living in South Africa for two years now, Khama maintains a firm grip on the BPF and some party members periodically visit him. The most recent visit was that of 10 councillors from the Serowe constituencies – all of which BPF won in the 2019 general election. The councillor delegation asked Khama to contest for the party’s presidency in the upcoming elective congress, which has been scheduled for April this year. A party source says that the delegation told Khama that only he can unite the party and rein in the indiscipline that is tearing the party apart.
Khama, who says he has yet to make up his mind, wouldn’t respond to Sunday Standard’s questions on what leadership gaps he would be filling if he decides to run for president.
“That question would have to be put to those who have asked me to stand as it was not me wishing to seek to stand but am only considering the matter for the moment as a result of such request,” he said.
He gave similar response to the question of whether his candidacy (should it come about) wouldn’t amount to a vote of no-confidence in Reverend Biggie Butale, the BPF president.
On the basis of what he said in an interview with Duma FM, some members have called him on the phone with the same entreaty. He has also announced that he will communicate his decision within a month.
However, that Khama would even countenance the thought of becoming BPF president has ruffled feathers in the party. Some have gone as far as to post audio clips on the party’s social media platforms to dissuade Khama from seeking elected office.
One such clip is of a woman who identifies herself as MmaKgosana from Mahalapye West. In the four-minute long clip, she questions the mandate of the 10 councillors who went to see Khama in South Africa.
“Are they making decisions on our behalf?” she asks, adding why the 10 councillors want to install as party president, someone who is absent in Botswana and why they want to replace Butale with someone (Khama) who endorsed Butale as president.
The other point that she makes is that Khama’s return would confirm suspicion that BPF is a Serowe party whose leadership has to come from the Khama family.
“People would leave the party,” she warns, adding that there is actually no guarantee that Khama will return home anytime soon.
In at least two other audio clips, one a recorded phone conversation, as many lady members get personal with Khama. One lady who is identified as MmaMonyena, asserts that Khama is not behaving like a kgosi and an adult.
“There is no need for Ian to return to the presidency,” she adds.
What she means by that is that as BPF president, Khama, who was Botswana president between 2008 and 2018, would be eyeing a bigger prize – the state presidency.
MmaMonyena asks the man she is speaking with on the phone whether he is in contact with Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, the CEO of the SKI Foundation – “SKI” stands for Seretse Khama Ian. The answer is in the affirmative. A former Deputy Permanent Secretary under Khama, Kaboeamodimo is one of Khama’s most trusted aides and has been the link between Khama and his subjects. MmaMonyena wants the unidentified man she is speaking with to tell Kaboeamodimo that she and another lady called MmaSentsho don’t want Khama to become BPF president. She also wants Khama to “erase from his mind” any idea to make any announcement with regard to contesting for the BPF presidency. She explains that in so doing, Khama would subject Bangwato to scorn and ridicule that only they can become presidents.
“There is no need for Ian to compete with Butale,” she says. “He told us that Butale is fit enough to become party president. Butale should compete with other candidates and not him.”
Another personal attack is from an unidentified woman who pooh-poohs received wisdom that people use Khama.
“Isn’t he perceptive enough to tell that he is being used?” she poses. “It’s not like these councillors put words in his mouth. They are after something and he is also after something.” Elaborating this point a minute later, she adds that “Khama is not being used, he is actually the one who is using people for his own benefit.”
As regards who is actually being used, she mentions party members. “They are making us dance to an undanceable tune.”
The latter doesn’t elaborate her point about the councillors being self-seeking but a party source has done so for us. His theory is that the councillors want to get Khama onside in order that he can bend the rules of democracy on their behalf. The councillors want to stand unopposed for the 2024 general election and want Khama to support such endeavour. Ordinarily, parties hold primary elections a year before the general election. Dispensing with that political ritual would be one less hurdle. They are also hoping that Khama, who remains popular with his subject-voters in Serowe, would also campaign for them ahead of the general election.
Significant though they are, the audio clips don’t amount to much because the pro-Khama supporters can easily make and distribute their own clips to make a case for why he should become BPF president. At press time, that had yet to happen.
Ultimately though, it is the government that will decide Khama’s fate. A commission of enquiry, which was chaired by former Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, submitted its report late last year and in it recommends that traditional leaders should not dabble in politics. It also recommends that someone – like Khama, who has held the office of president for an aggregate of 10 years should be disqualified from holding that office again.