Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Lady Who Knew Where The Bodies Are Buried!

The idiomatic phrase, knowing where the bodies are buried, when applied to politics can be both literal and figurative. In the rougher neighborhoods of the world, it could be a reference to those that killed rivals, thereby knowing where their victims are buried. As metaphor, it can be used to describe those protagonists who know everything that happens inside the inner-sanctums of political parties. These are protagonist entrusted with the most confidential information and privy to the level of plotting only discussed in hushed tones at meetings so sensitive they take place during nocturnal hours.

All political parties elect leadership, being individuals of exceptional attributes charged with promoting the fortunes of the organization. The political party is the vehicle through which state power is contested and exercised in society. Next to officialdom are others, who don’t necessarily have to be elected in order to wield influence. They possess a set of coveted skills owing to their expertise in the lay and navigation of the political landscape. Every political party has such protagonists. Interchangeably, they are described as strategists or kingmakers. Their modus operandi is to lurk in the shadows from where they decide fates, by salvaging a doomed campaign or putting paid to misplaced ambition. In my time in politics, I have personally profited from their skulduggery, or seen my head on the mantel piece as one of their hunting trophies. When news reached me of the passing of Roseline, so sadly premature and untimely, I was shocked as can be, having known and worked with her for quite a while. In the best of times we hunted as a pack, and at the worst of times, we jousted from a wary distance. The shock of Roseline’s death is more numbing because I kept track of her, as I did many politicians, through the prodigious social media output that made up her toolkit. With her gift of repartee essential to survival in mean streets, she gave as good as she got. Sometimes she emerged bruised, and at others landed stinging clapbacks, ensuring trolls tackled her with some trepidation.

This was no surprise because the lady was a combat veteran, schooled for many years in the political trenches. Scholars of politics will show that the most turbulent cycle in the history of the ruling BDP started 2010 when the party suffered a historic schism which would have far reaching ramifications, most notably for the 2014 elections. With intermittent peace in between, the turbulence would carry over to the 2019 elections which saw a war of fratricide between the past leader and his chosen successor. As we count ten years into the seemingly unending BDP troubles, Roseline was a constant presence, playing an outsized role in every episode of a saga whose final act remains a matter of speculation. When a section of the aggrieved Barataphathi faction decided to convene a summit at Big Five in Mogoditshane on March 5 2010, she was among disgruntled and angry democrats who threw down the gauntlet to President Khama with a list of 29 demands to rectify the wrongs emanating from the 2009 Kanye congress. Masterfully drafted by our spokesperson Advocate Sidney Pilane, the demands carried a tacit caveat that if not responded to satisfactorily, aggrieved would walk out to establish our own party. Roseline was one of the youthful participants without reservations who associated the dissidents questioning the authority of leadership. When the 29 demands, chief of which was revocation of Gomolemo Motswaledi’s five year suspension were ignored, she turned up with the masses at Letlhabile School in Gaborone West on May 29 where BMD was birthed. Forming a brand new party from scratch is no child’s play, and of the outliers striking out on that unchartered journey, none had prior experience on how to go about the exercise. It was

more a function of self righteousness, and trial and error as we went along. In setting up key structures, together with her peers like Armstrong Dikgafela Phenyo Segokgo and Rasina Rasina, amongst others, Roselyn acquitted herself well enough to be nominated secretary general of the interim youth league. What distinguished her was undying commitment and clarity of purpose for the task at hand. It was evident from the beginning that young people in BDP were more receptive to our agenda, and willing to join the movement, meaning Roseline and the others had their hands full nudging them to make the decisive move.

When the inaugural congress, after false starts kicked off May 1 2011 at St Joseph’s College, the movement could showcase an impressive frontline of which Roseline was a part. It was this cohort that knew the inner workings of the fledgling movement. They knew the funders, and others who extended assistance necessary for day to day operations. Not only was BMD a political project, but it was carnival time, where politics was interspersed with joy and camaraderie of the kind never before seen. Yes. Alongside the blistering politics, we had fun, becoming each others’ keepers as we introduced a refreshing brand of activism admired by many. Just how the wheels came off the glorious project is a story for another day, safe to say the difficulties of running a party, high on morale and enthusiasm yes, but low on resources became debilitating. Some members, including legislators started retracing their steps to the mother party, out of residual sentiment or due to promises, fulfilled and unfulfilled as it turned out. Roseline was somewhere between the second batch to return. It was a time when it was fashionable in local politics for returnees to curry favour by spilling the beans on their erstwhile parties.

Not so with BMD people. I recall how before I too, to my eternal shame, joined the ranks of those who abandoned Motswaledi, word reached me of a fellow legislator about to return. There was no way of stopping him. However, as vice president of the movement, my immediate concern was a trip abroad I had undertaken abroad with the colleague to find resources for the movement. I was worried he might blabber his mouth away, leaving us exposed. In a last gasp intervention, I sent him a text, telling him to remember that in life there are secrets we take with to the grave. I needn’t have lost sleep because his response was in the affirmative. To this day the details of that top secret trip remain classified. It was that legislator, and the likes of Roseline who knew our most sensitive secrets. For instance, on a strict need to know basis which could not be an agenda item in any meeting, they were aware of identities of those in BDP who came to our aid with resources and other inside info.

In a manner of speaking they knew where BMD had buried the bodies. But to the last person, despite having left, they did not let out as much as a squeak. In a demonstration of how some of the returnees were accomplished as politicians, upon rejoining the ruling party, they knuckled down, choosing sides in new battles they found raging. By 2013, the race for the office of vice president, due to fall vacant after the 2014 elections, was on. As dynamics unfolded, the BMD’s founding treasurer, Samson Moyo Guma was elected BDP chairman at the Maun congress. It was a spectacular victory which had many fathers. But the mother of Guma’s triumph was Roseline, with her outgoing disposition and easy smile, behind which lay tenacity and a win at all cost attitude. At that congress, as a sheepish returnee myself, I was campaign coordinator for the rival candidate Mma Venson- Moitoi. Suffice to say, we were vanquished by Guma’s well marshalled forces. In the years since the early BMD days, Roseline had transformed into seasoned strategist operating by stealth and charm. This approach enabled her to gain the confidence of many, which insights she weaponized for her cause, often with positive outcomes. If at BMD she could be entrusted with secrets whilst in the youth league, in her second coming at BDP, she was the go to lady if one harboured ambitions, or needed to eject a rival, be it in internal leadership contests or bulela ditswe contests. In fact it wouldn’t be far- fetched to venture that Roseline at her finest operated as a political consultant of sorts stomping the whole

country. If she had your back, then your cause was blessed. If she was batting for the rival side, then woe betide unto you. But in whatever political escapades she was engaged, Roseline did do so in concert with Guma. Societal gossip notwithstanding, theirs was nothing but a very profound friendship. They made for a lethal tag team and hunted their prey like a pair of hyenas. The enemies of Roseline’s were Guma’s as well, and his friends were her friends. The duo were all weather confidants who stood by each other through thick and thin, including on matters outside politics such as business. For some reason, despite sharing a BMD heritage, back at BDP, I often found myself at odds with their tag team. I kept vigilance on them and so did they on me. Constantly we were sizing each other up. Although unable to find common ground on the weighty questions facing the party we had returned to, we nonetheless maintained mutual respect for one another. Post 2014 polls, with the succession race going to the wire, the tag team repurposed itself to champion vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi’s cause as his retainers and hatchet squad, respectively.

The presidency of any country is contested terrain, and rightly so. But it always begins with internal party jostling, and when it came to Botswana’s fifth presidency, things were more intense with other hopefuls fancying a shot. In action, Guma and Roseline were a marvel to watch, but only if one was not in their cross- hairs. Without question the fact that Masisi won the day, was due, in no small part to the spirited efforts of the Guma and Roseline tag team and its dependable country wide network of foot soldiers. In pursuit of the cause, I am sure they also got to handle deep secrets, fully aware where the campaign’s bodies were buried. In January 2019, after one setback too many, I decided to take time out of politics to recharge. For the first time since 1994 I would be following the elections as a couch potato, just another ordinary citizen far from the thick of action. I had become one of those ordinary people I used to wonder about, who just went about their daily lives without participating in politics. These are people who wondered what all the fuss was about and even in election year couldn’t be bothered to attend a single rally. They are assailed by campaign news from the papers and radio stations if only because there is no way of avoiding the wall to wall coverage. I had become one of them, trying to cultivate new interests by doing the things active politics had kept me away from for close on 25 years. By mere happenstance, I met Roseline a few months after the elections. Happy to see each other we were. She was now secretary general of BPF. In the twists and turns of Botswana politics, she was ensconced as a trusted confidant of the fourth president, once upon a time her bete noir.

Reminiscing about old times, and the tempestuous poll the country had just gone through, I informed her I was thinking of writing a book about my life and experiences in politics. To this extent, she was one of the subjects I wanted to interview to fill in certain gaps, particularly on events after her second coming to the ruling party, and subsequent departure. Feigning surprise, she asked if I thought she could really add any value to the envisaged project. My reply was that as far as I knew her, she was custodian of many a juicy secret and her tidbits could turn out to be useful. And if she wished, her input would be on an off- record basis. After all, she was the young woman who transformed into the lady that never betrayed our BMD secrets. She was the lady who never betrayed the secrets of her BDP acquaintances even after, for the second time, serving the party with divorce papers. From our chat it left little to the imagination that she was the keeper of BPF secrets. This confirmed that in all her political reincarnations, Roseline, a wellspring of ideas, always found herself entrusted with the custody of secrets. What more, it was common knowledge that she was the bag lady who doled out the cash at congresses where more than gentle persuasion was needed. I doubt anyone in this country’s politics, irrespective of party, was ever privy to more secrets than Roseline. Now she is no more. Across the political spectrum and in personal spaces, we mourn a life tragically cut short at just 42 years before

reaching full bloom. Every single one of us remembers Roseline from a chosen prism. To me she was a lady of consuming passion, conviction and loyalty to any political cause she espoused. Above all else, in the course of her political activism she was the epitome of integrity, honour and self discipline. Roseline departs this earth as custodian and keeper of secrets. The lady who knew where all the bodies are buried.

Mokaulengwe, rest in power!

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