Monday, July 15, 2024

Shaw Kgathi: An unlikely victim of a monster he built

Shaw Kgathi relishes a political fight. And he has never shown any problems crossing streets just to pick a fight.

Experience shows that he is always too happy to draw blood first.

His primary fighting tactics involve shooting from the hip.

And there is quite a sizeable number of scalps under his belt

Every time there is a political controversy he enjoys being at the centre of it all.

It is exactly that kind of attitude that has seen him rise to the near top of our national politics.

With time he has grown used to winning.

Yet last week he became the first casualty in a tawdry fight the making of which he had little to no role in its manufacture.

For the first time in almost twenty years, Kgathi sees defeat is starring him at his face.

For such a famed aggressor it is a saddening scene to find Kgathi accept himself as a victim.

For a man so accustomed to winning and causing political harm to others, it is an altogether foreign territory that he finds himself.

Not surprisingly he is not so sure how to fight back.

With little mercy, detractors are calling on him to save himself.

The fallout of which he has become a victim is proving immensely neuralgic.

But Kgathi has not been a random target. More important he is not what Americans would call collateral damage.

To Ian Khama who administered the blows, Shaw Kgathi is a legitimate target.

As a longtime key loyalist and prot├®g├®, his refusal to be on Khama’s side during this difficult hour has been particularly hurtful for the former master.

For Khama, Kgathi’s sudden switch of sides to Mokgweetsi Masisi amounts to a stab in the dark. It is personal.

It amounts to nothing short of betrayal.

Khama is an army General. And in military codes there is a capital price to pay for such betrayal.

Khama is picking Kgathi to send a clear message to others of what happens to those perceived as sell-outs.

It does not matter to Khama that Kgathi is a pragmatist. And that his decisions are based on nothing short of prevailing practical realities.

Khama might think Kgathi has changed and even switched sides.

But in substance Kgathi has not changed.

He is to Mokgweetsi Masisi exactly what he was to Ian Khama ÔÇô a secret weapon.

During his time Khama used Kgathi to beat opponents to the pulp. Masisi is using the man for exactly that role.

And as ever, and like all loyalists Kgathi is willing to trade own dignity for security of the master.

For him victory for the master means winner-takes-all; he has never leant to accommodate anything resembling a compromise.

An old party horse recently told me that “Kgathi is grass-root.”

What he meant was that the man never concerns himself with false niceties and other facades that politicians like to fake. A leaked audio tape of him berating a party activist for meddling in his constituency is a living testimony of Kgathi’s true warrior skills.

At a recent press conference, Masisi referred to him as Dr. Kgathi. It was a loaded title, with a lot of significance and many hidden sub-texts.

In times like these he’s a weapon of choice ÔÇô gold standard.

But Kgathi’s swashbuckling outer deamenour belies his vulnerabilities.

For all his confidence, he is a man never sure of his political destiny.

His love for a political fight is always calculated to hide a deep-seated insecurity.

Since his first victory in Bobirwa, Kgathi has seen himself as always surviving on the brink.

Rightly or wrongly he has often felt alone and deserted by his own party in the face of an opposition ever gaining grounds in his constituency.

Inevitably, every victory has brought with it a growing sense of self-righteousness on his part. Victory has made him feel vindicated. Yet a series of such victories have not delivered any growth in self-confidence on his part.


Politically, more than anything, Kgathi is driven by political survival rather than conviction.

The man can be faulted for lacking courage but his adaptive skills are second to none.

As a politician, like many of Botswana’s politicians, opposition included, Kgathi does not have an ideology.

For his entire career, he has refused (failed is actually a much better word) to stand on his own.

He is driven by a zealous eagerness to please the current master ÔÇô whoever it happens to be at any given time.

In return for that loyalty he wants, expects and demands compensation ÔÇô a cabinet position near the pinnacle of the pile often suffices.

When Gomolemo Motswaledi challenged Ian Khama, it was Kgathi who chose himself as Khama’s chief whisperer.

As Motswaledi was shown the highway, Kgathi’s political stock rose exponentially.

In public or in private, he has never shown remorse for his actions.

But even for such a proven survivor, political vacillation has its own costs.

And this past week Botswana’s chief political vacillator paid his price.

It’s likely that the total amount is not fully settled yet.

As a standalone politician Kgathi is weak.

He is for example not Mokgweetsi Masisi, and certainly not your Daniel Kwelagobe.

But he blends very easily in a crowd.

Thus his masters had an easy time with him as there was never a need to justify his appointment to senior portfolios, also because as a minister he is both efficient and effective.

In maneuvering this wriggle his attitude is informed by his knowledge of the power of a sitting president.

For him it was never about whether, but how and when to change loyalties from Khama to Masisi.

When that time came, it was for him an easy decision to make.

He now sees Khama as nothing short of a nuisance.

And to a point he is right.

Losing primary elections in the manner orchestrated by Khama is hardly a kind of hill Kgathi would have liked to die on.

But this is what ultimately happens to someone who refuses for a long time to create their identity as separate and distinct from his supposed masters.

For his entire career Kgathi failed to carve himself an identity away from Khama.

Khama knows so well that Kgathi owes his political life to him.

Kgathi has stayed this long near the summit of this country’s political pyramid because he had this unconditional loyalty to Khama.

Every time he felt alone when his Bobirwa constituency was under siege or was about to fall to opposition especially the Botswana Congress Party he would dial a May Day text to Khama for rescue.

Cavalry always arrived, though often on the eleventh hour.

Khama’s recent incendiary activities in Bobirwa might deal Kgathi a deadly blow.

To Kgathi, Khama’s attacks have administered if not confirmed what he always suspected; that as always he is on his own.

There is however still a possibility that he might yet survive. If he does, Kgathi should learn from the episode.

And once and for all strive to become a master of his own destiny.

Because he is not a young man any more, learning such new tricks will not be easy. But in an era where permanent friends are in permanent short supply, it is something worth trying.


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