They style themselves the “Alternatives,”- the new political kid on the block, Real Alternative Party (RAP).
Somehow, they managed unlike the purple movement of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), to enter the theatre of local politics without any pomp and fanfare. There is no ‘swagger’ about them neither do they harbour any pretensions for affluence or elitism.
Chairperson Gaontebale Mokgosi and his right-hand man, Onkemetse Clark, the National Messenger or in popular political parlance, secretary general, are two ordinary guys who you could mistake for your next door neighbour. In fact, Mokgosi insists it is this lowliness and humility that will endear them to the masses of the “downtrodden”that they wish to serve.
The fundamental basis for starting RAP is the contradictions of sheer poverty and the appalling conditions under which workers exist, which conditions coexist alongside stinking wealth of the few
elites that have managed to misappropriate national wealth for selfish gain.
In their founding document they explain that they exist“to unfold the contradiction, loss, despair and disconnect from the everyday meanings of life in search for better alternatives towards happy life for all in Botswana: and will do this by challenging the “accepted pattern of economic and political relations” in Botswana.
Who then are RAP’s target members considering that they enter the political fray during a hostile environment when, in spite of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association, the voting populace is gradually moving towards bipartisan politics characterised by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party – in power for the past 51 years – and the amalgam of opposition parties, joined not by any ideology but a common desire to extricate power from the BDP?
RAP says it is a movement of people that owes no allegiance to any system but only to itself. “Being the underprivileged, the workless, the oppressed and dispossessed without representation at the political level, we are searching for new means to become the master and not servant of anyone. We have resolved to stop shirking responsibility and have started to assume responsibility.”
The party- just like its name implies – is committed to evolving its own strategy and tactics, and will not try to “fit into any preconceived pattern”Whilst representing the downtrodden they refuse to be labelled as the out of school, school - dropouts, informal traders, casual - labourers, low wage workers or destitute people.
“We have learnt that our chief weakness is the lack of political power,”hence the resolve to form this party whose colours are ‘red, black and green’while its slogan is, ‘Kitlano’. The party’ symbol is a chair under a beam of light. The Alternatives mean to rattle the establishment. Their approach is as unconventional as it is revolutionary. Whilst political parties invest power in the President, RAP would rather refer to its leader as Chairman.
The organisational principles demand the party to be accountable to the National Pitso and to observe “unified discipline.”The individual is expected to be subordinate to the organisation and the minority subordinate to the majority – the lower level to the higher level all these guided by the principle of democratic centralism, mandate, frankness, accountability, transparency and selflessness.
These values may sound well-meaning on paper, but are they realistic in practice? National Messenger, Clark says the principles are grounded on Tswana tradition and way of life, in which people pull together. RAP’s mission is to “organise communities”to empower them so that they assume total power of their own accord.
But why could RAP not join any of the existing opposition or become a pressure group? Clark says they have lost trust in the old parties, because they have reached the end of the political road. The Chairman adds that established political parties have very “hostile leadership”that does not tolerate any dissension.
“They have even now successfully made the general followership to support or solidify this hostility so that one is not allowed to differ with authority, which is contrary to democracy,” he says citing the many instances when he was spurned by the leadership of UDC in its formative years when he tried to provoke it to engage on issues of developing strategies, programmes and policies.
Mokgosi says they are inspired by the great minds like Marcus Garvey and Paulo Parey and Thomas Sankara amongst many luminaries and revolutionaries who lived by the creed that one cannot be a leader if one expects to be exposed. He is afraid of tendencies that contemporary political leadership both in the ruling and opposition manifests – the traits of ‘superman’or personality cults, which he says border on dictatorial tendencies.
But what is the difference between RAP and existing opposition parties? “Our struggle is based on economic grounds such as; jobs, living wage, housing, prices, transportation, arts, common land and social bond. We take our inspiration from indigenous ideas of the good and proper life. Our political concept is an eruption founded on the principle that people should be able to enjoy everything in life and from life, without being fettered or limited by any system,”the party’s founding document avers.
The party’s political thinking is ‘Power to the People’ whilst its agenda is investing the underprivileged with power! Mokgosi says UDC is not working as a united force, “they are divided, they hold each other suspect, they belittle each other, as shown by recent events where they are challenging each other’s strengths instead of finding strength in numbers; we don’t trust them because they don’t trust each other, this thing is not an umbrella it’s a make-believe!”
RAP admits it had a mountain to climb because they are facing resourced capitalists but they believe in the power of the poor, to conscientise them so that they lead their own struggle. The party will be launched in due course this year. In the meantime it is embarking on a country-wide membership recruitment drive.
But this notwithstanding, RAP has assured that it will contest the elections – both at Clouncil and Parliament level – in 2019. They will target certain parliamentary constituencies where they have comparative advantage to contest, but Mokgosi insisted during the Wednesday interview in the offices of Botswana Guardian that they would contest all Gaborone parliamentary seats.