In its headline story titled ‘UDC partners may merge in 2015′ Mmegi, (June 11, 2013) reported that, ‘The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will hold a congress in 2015 to determine its destiny, president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Gomolemo Motswaledi has said. He told Mmegi that at the congress, the UDC partners, BMD, BNF and BPP will decide whether to merge and form one party or maintain the status quo. Motswaledi is UDC secretary general’.
In all fairness some comrades in the BNF leadership either share or have expressed the same sentiments. Furthermore, comrades who continue to erroneously refer the UDC as a ‘political party’ and those who are comfortable with individual membership of the UDC broadly share the same dream that after 2015 the UDC ‘political party’ can substitute for the BNF, BMD and BPP. Although Comrade Motswaledi’s statement seems not to have elicited a response from the BNF leadership or members it is important as early as now to point out clearly and unambiguously that a political merger will have far reaching implications in terms of the integrity or ‘soul’ of the BNF and indeed its cooperating partners, the BMD and BPP. This piece argues that the envisaged proposition of a political merger of the BNF, BMD and BPP is not only ill-advised and potentially divisive, but may even threaten the very existence of the UDC united front. A political merger of the three parties would inevitably severely temper with the integrity of each of these parties. While we are happy that the three cooperating political parties were able to find a common political denominator in the form of a minimum political programme, we should be weary of political propositions fraught with all kinds of dangers. The fact of the matter is that these political parties are different in many respects and that rules out the possibility of a political merger. The BNF, for instance, is different from the BMD and BPP in terms of its history, traditions, constitution, ideological orientation and organizational culture, norms and principles which were influenced by socialist parties. The BNF borrowed many aspects of its political programme, organizational principles and ideological and strategic positions from socialist parties. The very principle of the united front tactic on which the BNF was founded, and on which the UDC is based was also borrowed from communist parties. Furthermore, the BNF political programme’s emphasis on public ownership of the basic means of production, cooperatives and parastals are all heavily influenced by socialist parties.
Historically, the origins and genesis of the united front tactic can be traced back to the 1921 third congress of the Communist International held in Geneva where the leader of the Russian Communist Party, the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Lenin propounded the united front tactic for the first time for communist parties and revolutionary movements in countries still under the yoke of classical colonialism as a broad anti-imperialist front. The concept was later further elaborated by Leon Trotsky, another leader of the Bolsheviks whose slogan for the united front tactic was particularly apposite ÔÇô ‘marching separately, but striking together’! . Indeed, the BNF’s scientific or class approach to politics was also borrowed from socialist parties. Equally, the organizational norms and principles of the BNF, namely democratic centralism, criticism and self-criticism, the immediate recall of comrades who fail to measure up and the code of conduct on selflessness and humility encapsulated in the Party document Seforanta Keeng? are also derived from socialist parties. Explaining the code of conduct expected of BNF revolutionary democrats Dr Koma once stated that;
‘only revolutionaries make a revolution, before you make a revolution, a revolution must first take place within your own being. If you are virtually an embodiment of imperfections, both morally, physically and otherwise, you are not a fit person to make a revolution.’
I still remember vividly Dr Koma addressing us in the BNFYL in the 1980s at Bontleng and prescribing a book by a Chinese author, Liu Shao-Chi titled, How to be a Good Communist published in 1951. That book is about socialist morality, selflessness and humility coupled with a life-long commitment to a personal process of revolutionary steeling in the practical struggle and ideological self-cultivation. It must be recalled that before the collapse of so-called communist countries in Russia and the eastern bloc the BNF political programme was based on a National Democratic Revolution which is essentially a programme of a socialist party. In line with the compromises made by socialist parties globally following the collapse of Stalinism, in 1995 the BNF adopted the Social Democratic Programme and began to distance itself from the use of the concept of the National Democratic Revolution in what is regarded as a shift to the centre. However, the Social Democratic Programme preserves the basic demands of the National Democratic Revolution, and internationally we are affiliated to the Socialist International . Hence the SDP says, ‘The BNF is not a communist party. The Party, however, has a strong socialist tendency or component’. A National Democratic Revolution is the lower phase of socialism because the poorly developed forces of production in third world countries make it difficult to directly and immediately build a socialist society. All BNF cadres and activists who cherish their party’s rich and unique history, values and ideological orientation must fight against reactionary tendencies of mechanically merging their Party with parties whose histories and ideological orientation is different from that of the BNF.
I would like to refer to comments I made back in 2006 when I was debating another attempt at forging a united front tactic with other political parties. In a document titled Is the Electoral Pact a viable model of cooperation? my views on the proposal for an umbrella organization at that time were that ;
Aside from the legal impediment, there is the political hurdle. The BNF negotiating team has no mandate to negotiate away 40 years of the existence of the BNF in favour of some new party or some unknown entity called an ‘umbrella’ body. As far as BNF members are concerned that would be counterproductive and suicidal. It would defeat the very purpose for which the alliance is supposed to be set up, namely to build on the existing foundation of opposition parties or to pool their resources in order to unseat the BDP regime. ‘As I understand it, an umbrella structure is as good as registering a new party because it would have to have its own symbols and voting disc. From the point of view of the BNF, this is a non-starter, because our negotiating team has no mandate to disband the BNF . In any case, the court ruling in the case between the BPP and BAM over the black star voting symbol in 2001 clearly shows that such a structure would be unconstitutional because ‘Section 148 of the Electoral Act (Cap 02:07) permits only ‘political parties’ to apply for registration of voting symbols’.
While there is nothing wrong with the UDC having a legal status we must guard against establishing it as a full-fledged ‘political party’ which may substitute for the BNF in 2015. A political merger would divide and weaken our political parties and even threaten the very existence of the UDC united front. It would signal the death knell or demise of the BNF as we know it and is therefore completely unacceptable to some of us. Unfortunately, the UDC constitution makes the UDC a political party rather than an ordinary temporary tactical united front of the three political parties. Individual membership of the UDC which BNF members have overwhelmingly rejected at various forums, including the Ditshegwane Leadership Forum earlier this year, continues against our will.
During the negotiations on harmonizing the policies of the BNF, BMD and BPP I remember how Comrade Mogalakwe always emphasized the importance of confining ourselves to policies where we can agree, rather than those over which we cannot agree. Similarly, my sagacious advice to the UDC is; let us stay with the minimum political programme over which we have already agreed and avoid venturing into a political minefield of attempting to mechanically merge very different political parties. The question we need to answer after 2014 is whether we wish to continue with the UDC united front tactic or not. Other possible options could be for the smaller political partners to consider group membership of the BNF. There is also nothing wrong with a political party disbanding and joining another political party. A political merger is not one of the options because it presupposes major compromises which would inevitably threaten the integrity of the parties involved.