Addressing a political rally in Mochudi last week, the Acting President of the Botswana Movement for Democracy, Nehemiah Modubule, said that he successfully ran for elections in 2009 as an independent candidate ÔÇô mokoko in Setswana.
This statement is very important for the historical record and needs to be scrutinised. If it is accurate, it would mean that Modubule was the first Botswana politician to successfully run for parliament. So, was he an independent candidate when he ran for the Lobatse parliamentary seat that he first won in 1999? To answer that question, one needs to first tinker with the language. “Independent candidate” means exactly that ÔÇô a political candidate who is independent of any party, who is completely on his own. The official record at the independent Electoral Commission (IEC) shows that Modubule ran as an independent parliamentary candidate but there are other considerations.
Let’s first examine the shape and form of Modubule’s independent candidacy. Ahead of the 2009 general election, Modubule played a protracted cat-and-mouse game with then Botswana National Front Secretary General, Mohammad Khan. The party’s Central Committee had resolved to expel Modubule’s party, PUSO, from the BNF. PUSO had joined BNF as a group member. Khan, who is now Molepolole North MP, followed up by writing a letter to officially communicate such expulsion.
For a fax transmission to be deemed successful, the person on the receiving end has to acknowledge receipt. For any number of reasons, the latter can claim not to have received the fax message even when he has. In such scenario, it is difficult to say transmission was successful because there are cases when the fax report itself can state the opposite of what actually occurred. Modubule’s expulsion letter was faxed to the Lobatse Constituency Office on numerous occasions and each time he said he hadn’t received it. On the basis of the latter, he considered himself to still be a BNF member and conducted himself as such. On the other hand, Khan said that after faxing the letter, he had called staff (whose names he had) at the office who acknowledged receipt of the fax message. Modubule refuted that account and the issue evolved to a point where Khan said the party would send the expulsion letter by registered mail or courier.
During the course of this saga, Modubule was addressing political rallies in Lobatse. For one, he had been issued a police permit under his own name, not the BNF’s. However, BNF paraphernalia was in full display at the rally and Khan said the party would engage its lawyers to put an end to that. While Modubule ended up severing ties with the party, he never did so with BNF structures in the constituency right up to election day.
He admitted that himself, telling the Mochudi rally: “Ke ne ke na le di-comrades; ba itaya mo go tweng underground. Go bo raya gore re a win-a.” (I was working underground with comrades and that is how we won.) BNF sources in Lobatse say that the deal was that after winning, Modubule would rejoin the party. That never happened and the people he worked with underground are said to have been so aggrieved that they didn’t lend similar support in 2014 when he lost to Sadique Kebonang of the Botswana Democratic Party.
Modubule’s 2009 candidacy clearly shows that he was not an independent candidate in the strict sense of the term. However, he can claim to have been one on the basis of IEC standards which require little more than registering as an independent candidate and don’t concern themselves with how a candidate conducts his campaign. Running a successful independent candidacy is a huge feather in a politician’s cap. It is an achievement that requires toil, innovation, resoluteness and resourcefulness ÔÇô not clandestinely piggybacking on an established political brand. An independent candidate would never say “That is how we won.”
On such basis and until the right person comes along, the record of “Botswana’s first successful independent parliamentary candidate” remains unclaimed.