Deepening rifts between Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) could create a crisis for the teetering opposition coalition a week before the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is set to be launched.
Botswana People’s Party (BPP), BMD and BNF agreed to form an opposition coalition in the form of an Umbrella to wrestle power from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in the next general elections.
So palpable is the tension between the BNF and BMD that the majority of BNF membership have fired off a strongly worded salvo against BMD saying the BDP offshoot is a risky liability to BNF identity. “I feel that this umbrella thing is untenable; we are running the risk of becoming another BPP,” complains BNF Councillor for Orapa ward, Chilume Balopi, adding that he is fighting for the heart and soul of the BNF.
“BMD is crippling us; they should join us as a group member,” said Balopi. He dramatically announced his disdain for the BMD, but maintained that he is not resigning from the BNF yet vowed to ensure that the Umbrella does not see the light of day.
The anger is set to engulf BNF over the coming days and will affect BMD prospects of winning Block 8 ward by-election. There are many frustrated Balopi’s. Some councillors in Maun and Ngwaketsi South have also joined the fray.
Botswana Guardian understands that the discontent, which threatens to reverse nascent efforts made in opposition cooperation, came to the fore when the BNF realised that the BMD is recruiting one of its strategic and long time members, Roy Sesana of the First Peoples of the Kalahari (FPK).
As BMD president, Gomolemo Motswaledi and his Secretary General, Wynter Mmolotsi arrived in Rakops to welcome Sesana. A frustrated Balopi vented his anger on BNF president Duma Boko in a strongly worded text message: “After careful consideration and consultation with a lot of people, I have come to a conclusion that I can no longer afford to be part of the Umbrella Project, BMD was welcoming a BNF icon (Roy Sesana) yesterday in our constituency.”
Another BNF councillor in Kgalagadi South is apparently not amused that BMD recruited Sesana from BNF. BNF spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa last week Tuesday told Botswana Guardian sister publication the Midweek Sun that Sesana was still their member. However, a high-ranking BMD official said Sesana has shown interest in them since 2011.
What is at stake?
Sources say scores of BNF concillors are rooting for a Special Congress where the matter will be discussed. Botswana Guardian has established that Balopi has now received overwhelming support from other councillors from across the country.
Some councillors have apparently proposed that a meeting of all BNF councillors who want the BNF to withdraw from the Umbrella be held. Balopi said in a phone interview that on Sunday he tried to phone Boko so that he (Boko) can clarify the issue (Sesana joining BMD) but the BNF president never answered his phone. His message further reads “Please accept and respect my decision, my loyalty to BNF is unquestionable and I am taking this decision with a hindsight of the pain that I will inflict on you as friends, comrades and colleagues and it is a decision that I am prepared to be crucified for and equally die for.”
Balopi is apparently receiving a lot of sympathy from his fellow colleagues and some party activists. Some BNF leaders are apparently waking up to the fact that the Umbrella is destroying the party rather than building it. “A lot of people in the BNF have issues with the Umbrella,” a highly placed source within the BNF revealed.
Some in the party, according to sources, are said to be having second thoughts in supporting BMD in the coming Sebele Ward by-election where the latter is expected to field a candidate that will represent the cooperating partners. One councillor who preferred not to be quoted on record has this to say: “we are concerned about this (Umbrella), we are still discussing this internally and we want our leaders to respond.”
The councillors’ reactions have shaken those in the leadership of both the BNF and BMD, this publication understands. Mohwasa could not be drawn into discussing the matter with the Botswana Guardian, though he was said to have talked for long with Balopi over the phone. Motswaledi is said to have proposed a meeting with Balopi but the latter declined the offer, preferring to meet with Boko.
“I am not going to discuss issues which we discuss with our members with the press,” said Mohwasa. Motswaledi also confirmed that he talked to Balopi but denied that it was about the Sesana issue. “We talk a lot with Balopi, since my days at the BDP. We are not just political colleagues, we are also friends,” said Motswaledi. He referred questions surrounding the Sesana matter to the BMD Secretary General Mmolotsi who could not be reached for comment as his phone rang unanswered.
Constituencies’ hot potato
Despite Sesana’s defection, the allocation of constituencies for the 2014 general elections remains a highly contested issue. Those who are against the Umbrella within the BNF complain bitterly that the BMD has been allocated constituencies it does not deserve.
BMD has been allocated Maun West, Boteti South, Chobe and some constituencies in Ngwaketse, a move which has angered BNF supporters. In a clear case of treachery and backstabbing, BNF is said to be unwilling to give up Mahalapye West constituency and is said to be campaigning in the constituency, which has been handed to BMD. “We have worked for these constituencies,” said a defiant BNF source.
BMD hits back
A high-ranking BMD official who did not want to be identified for fear of victimisation expressed surprise at BNF complaints about Sesana’s political choice. The official – who is also a member of BMD Central Committee - stated that his party lost members to the BNF but they never made noise. “They directly recruited our members.
We never made noise but we rather blessed that because what really matters is adding value to the collective,” the source argued. He gave an example of Maokaneng Bontshetse who recently joined the BNF, saying he is a founding member of the BMD who was very active in Tonota. “There are many examples.”
According to the official, the BNF recently without proper consultation with the BMD, launched a candidate for the looming by-election in Mahalapye West to replace Mompati Merafhe who has since retired. “They held a political rally to launch a parliamentary and council candidate.”
But according to him Mahalapye West has been allocated to BMD and not BNF.
“We never made noise about this as well because we feel that it is an anomaly; our role is to correct things, and we don’t go around making noise about such issues.” Reached for comment, Mohwasa denied campaigning in Mahalapye West saying they have not launched any candidate. Besides, according to him as far as he knows, constituencies have not yet been allocated.
Meanwhile, the BMD source also admitted that some within the BNF have “small issues with the BMD candidate” at Sebele Ward. “He was a BNF member, and there are some in the BNF who say when he left he did not consult the party.” Sesana could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.