Saturday, November 26, 2022

Tshekedi unilaterally appoints Malefho to act in his BPF position

If he resigned his position as Secretary General of the Botswana Patriotic Front, Tshekedi Khama, would have jumped out of a vehicle that could possibly take him to State House. In preventing that from happening, Tshekedi went against what the party constitution prescribes: he unilaterally appointed Dr. Kolaatamo Malefho to act in his stead. 

Like Tshekedi, Malefho is a member of the National Executive Committee but as an Ordinary Member, is not part of the Executive Committee, the NEC nucleus that makes the most critical decisions. Sunday Standard learns that from his self-imposed exile in South Africa, Tshekedi communicated with Malefho via email, appointing him Acting SG.

The BPF constitution says that a NEC position automatically becomes vacant when its holder absents himself from three consecutive meetings. Tshekedi has not yet reached that threshold but his physical absence in the country complicates matters for him. In its nature, the SG position requires a lot of in-country travel and physical interaction with party members. Given that BPF is holding high-level talks with the Umbrella for Democratic Change, the SG is required at the negotiating table. Tshekedi decided that Malefho could fill in for him while he remains in South Africa.

The problem with Tshekedi’s plan is that it lacks constitutional validity. The party’s constitution, which is largely modelled on that of the Botswana Democratic Party – which BPF broke away from – says that where the SG is unable to discharge his/her duties, the Deputy SG shall take over. The latter condition is the reason there is a DSG in the first place. On such basis, the DSG, Vuyo Notha, is supposed to have taken over as SG. Beyond what the constitution says, the NEC should formalise the transfer of power but that didn’t happen.

According to another source, these and other issues will be raised when the BPF NEC meets tomorrow (June 13). Malefho is expected to attend this meeting and from what sources say, he will meet a lot of resistance to his appointment.

The latter is a former civil servant who served a long stint as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and has changed his political home twice. On retiring from the civil service, he joined the Botswana Democratic Party – which was a pragmatic choice for someone who was interested in the Serowe South parliamentary seat. He was among those who defected to the BPF which was founded by former president Ian Khama. Malefho shifted his interest to Palapye, contesting on a BPF ticket in the 2019 elections but losing to Onneetse Ramogapi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change.

At this point, Malefho was an Ordinary Member of the NEC, having been elected in the party’s inaugural national congress in Palapye. At that same congress, Roseline Panzirah-Motshome had been elected Secretary General, a position she held until her death in December 2020 when she was replaced by Tshekedi. Rather than risk an election in which a favourable outcome couldn’t be assured, the party co-opted Tshekedi, who is the younger brother to Gen. Khama.

Going back to December last year, the Khama family has had a run of bad luck. In that month, Gen Khama fled to South Africa as the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DISS) hounded him for “unlawful possession of weapons of war.” In March this year, DISS took Tshekedi, his wife, Thea and twin brother, Anthony, into custody. Upon release, the brothers and their families joined Gen Khama in South Africa. The brothers are the children of Botswana’s founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, who was also Bangwato supreme traditional leader. As the first-born son, Gen. Khama inherited the latter position and has leveraged it to gain political mileage for his party. Their sister, Jacqueline, died two weeks ago and was buried in Serowe.

Gen Khama is also BPF patron, a controversial position that some members deem a constitutional sleight of hand that was pulled to sneak Khama into an important decision-making body that he should not be part of. As patron, Khama attends NEC meetings and in April this year, he and Tshekedi virtually attended one from South Africa. This happened at Khama’s request.

The latter development notwithstanding, technology doesn’t provide a solution for Tshekedi’s unusual situation. Our information is that he has weaned himself from it for fear that it might reveal his location to intelligence agencies that have reason to keep tabs on him.  Senior party members don’t know where he is staying because even when he has to meet them in person in South Africa, the meeting happens far from his secret temporary abode.

The absence of the brothers is said to have given former assistant finance minister and Tati East MP, Guma Moyo, an opportunity to consolidate his power within the party. A late-comer to BPF, Moyo is also an NEC Additional Member and like Tshekedi, is eyeing the party presidency. Not only has Moyo become a “Father Christmas” to the BPF, he is also showing up in the right places, at the right time and doing the right things. Not long ago he was in Serowe for the burial of Jacqueline and so warmed the cockles of many hearts when he joined a sample of traditional chefs at the Serowe kgotla preparing a variety of meat dishes for mourners. 

Despite what might seem like a setback, the Khama brothers still hold all the aces. A provincial (Serowe) party, BPF’s future is tied to their control of it. If they lose such control, their subjects would not be motivated to vote for the new-look BPF.

With Khama’s backing as the main factor, BPF is a significant role player in Botswana’s opposition politics. Only five months old, the party set a record by winning three seats in what was supposed to be a BDP stronghold. Additionally, Khama campaigned tirelessly for some opposition candidates (flying from constituency to constituency in a helicopter while a contingent of his ground forces campaigned from door to door). As to be expected, the candidates that Khama helped win are now unable to repeat the criticism they levelled at him when he was president because they know better than to bite the hand that fed them.

The “Khama Magic” as it has been called, gives the magician a lot of say in opposition politics and it has been rumoured that he is seriously pushing Tshekedi as Vice President in a reconfigured UDC. If he succeeds, Tshekedi could well end up as state president and the Khamas, who have been part of executive leadership since 1875, would be restored to power after a lull. With the lessons that the current political phase has taught them, they would certainly be disinclined to let such power slip from their grip.

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