Declaring ‘willing to serve, ready to deliver’ Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi is crowning herself as the new Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairperson.
This is a strong statement along with ‘Vote for leadership you can rely on’ mantra contained in her brochures in a manner that conveys all the affection and respect she can muster for the multitudes of delegates that will be voting next week, as the ruling party heads for Maun for its first elective congress since the fiercely fought 2009 Kanye Congress. Venson-Moitoi’s Curriculum Vitae is as elaborate and detailed as her impassioned plea to make history.
From being Editor of Mmegi wa Dikgang to Permanent Secretary at Lands and Housing and then working for the South African government and later, become cabinet minister after the 1999 general elections to date, Moitoi has proved to be a go-getter who is aiming to make history next weekend by becoming the first ever woman BDP chairperson. The position for the past decades has been a monopoly of men and Moitoi is hoping to change that.
The late Peter Mmusi, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Ian Khama and Daniel Kwelagobe all led the BDP as chairpersons. And should she win she will not only be making history but also being the second most powerful person in BDP after President Khama. She will also be the face of the party after the president.
Viewed by many as a good schemer, intelligent and experienced in running the party, the Serowe South Member of Parliament is tipped to win the contest in Maun. In Maun she will be facing another man in Samson Moyo Guma. The latter’s supporters are claiming that 50 constituencies are already in the bag-a claim dismissed by Venson-Moitoi’s camp. They argue that past popular candidates including Khama, Kwelagobe and Kedikilwe failed to amass such numbers. “In Gantsi, President Khama, popular as he was, never mustered those sorts of numbers, DK (Kwelagobe) as well, so how did those numbers (Guma’s) come about,” argued a Venson-Moitoi sympathiser.
Dr. Comma Serema-former BDP Executive Secretary (who was in the Patrick Balopi team which has since united with the Venson-Moitoi team) also questioned these claims. “We don’t know where they got those numbers,” he muttered. Venson-Moitoi’s political troopers are convinced their candidate is the right woman for the job. Her trump card is that-she is intelligent, energetic, driven and experienced. “The other factor is that she is loyal. She has been with the party through thick and thin,” argued one BDP legislator in Venson-Moitoi’s camp who preferred anonymity. Also probably taking a swipe at Guma who was part of the BDP members who ditched the party to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).
Adding “she wants to institutionalise the party’s values and traditions. When you have a strong institution and have systems in place the party will function better and by extension government will also function better.” Venson-Moitoi writes: I joined this Party in 1970, 43 years ago! I’ve been a servant to this Party and Nation since.” She further notes, “Did you know that I have served as Deputy SG for two terms (1999-2003) then as a Member of the Central Committee for a further three terms 2003-2009.”
This is the experience her supporters rely on when they talk about her prospects. They say she knows the BDP systems better.
Venson-Moitoi first entered parliament as a specially elected MP in 1999; she then won the subsequent general elections to date.
Still smitten with endorsements from key BDP heavyweights in the likes of Patrick Balopi (who also had ambitions of contesting for the BDP chairmanship) and Daniel Kwelagobe, Venson-Moitoi recently posted on her Facebook page about Kwelagobe’s endorsement, “All I can say is “Thank you DK”... I’m humbled and honoured. I will not let you down.” The BDP this time around might not be embroiled in the Kanye-like factional wars that eventually led to its split but observers note that a bruising battle for the party’s soul looks likely in Maun. President Khama this time around appears to have stayed clear of controversy and did not openly endorse any of the candidates unlike in 2009 when he openly supported the Merafhe-Nkate camp. But perceptions could be deceiving.
Meanwhile, while the Guma camp is well oiled with resources and making use of such resources the Venson-Moitoi camp believes the Maun Senior Secondary School hall will be a blend of youth, women and should also be more welcoming to the BDP elders– where the votes are. “Ours is a unity team. For the first time in many years the Barata-Phathi and A-Team are united in an election,” said a source. They are united against one enemy – Guma. There is a school of thought that abhors those who leave the party with one door and return only to harbour ambitions to lead it. Said the source, “the unity team also came about because it considers it inappropriate for someone to leave the party and immediately upon return want to lead it.” They view this as shameless on the part of Guma.
Venson-Moitoi’s lobby list consists of youth, party elders and women. It has the likes of Isaac Seloko for secretary general, Bontsi Monare (Deputy Secretary General), Satar Dada (Treasurer) and Kagiso Mmusi (Deputy Treasurer). Kwelagobe and Balopi are additional members. It seems Venson-Moitoi is building momentum. Those who campaign for her believe they have gained enough support in at least 40 constituencies. A source in the North West told the Botswana Guardian that the constituencies that fall in that area support Venson-Moitoi. These include constituencies in Maun, Ngami, Okavango and Chobe.
South East North and Ghanzi North are also believed to be Venson-Moitoi supporters. “We will be dispatching a team this weekend to travel to Francistown, Boteti and Gantsi to garner more support,” said the Maun-based source. However, according to the source Venson-Moitoi’s own constituency is divided. Some delegates in the area support Guma.
Venson-Moitoi’s other support base
Sources say she enjoys support from a majority of her colleagues in cabinet.
Of the 45 BDP MPs sources say she has the support of at least 36. Most MPs, could not be drawn into discussing the congress and whom they support. “I will make my own decision next week. I am not influenced by lobby lists,” said one.
Another one said, “that one is my secret.”
Kwelagobe: He is a tried and tested politician who knows the BDP factional wars like the palm of his hand. Kwelagobe has won many BDP battles and Venson-Moitoi will be happy to have him fighting on her corner.
Ponatshego Kedikilwe: PHK as he is known in political cycles has not declared publicly his support to any of the aspirants but it is believed he is on Venson-Moitoi’s side.
Dr. Comma Serema: A former BDP Executive Secretary knows a few tricks about winning elections. This is what he said about Moitoi: “she is the right person for this position. She is capable.”
Botsalo Ntuane: The longest serving BDP Executive Secretary before becoming MP is the man pulling the strings in the Venson-Moitoi team. Together with the likes of Fidelis Molao and Monare he forms part of the energetic Young Turks in the team.
Patrick Balopi: A former senior cabinet minister and Speaker of the National Assembly first wanted the chairmanship position to “be providing a solution to the party’s problems and not be part of the problems.” After withdrawing from the race he is expected to provide the necessary guidance in the team.