Ten years ago, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary candidate for Serowe North, Kgotla Kenneth Autlwetse embarked on a political mission to represent the residents of Serowe North constituency in parliament.
The mission was not an easy one; he had to face a familiar opponent, an opponent with a royal DNA in his system. The man standing in Autlwetse’s way-Dikgakgamatso Ramadeluka Seretse-has for the past decade, been a thorn in his flesh. In 2003, the two men spared for the first time resulting in a narrow win for Autlwetse. The former Central District Council chairperson won that encounter with a margin of 21 votes. A re-run was ordered following Seretse’s dissatisfaction with the electoral processes. Autlwetse then tried to stop the re-run by seeking redress in court but lost the case. A re-run resulted in a win for Seretse, who had teamed up with other three Bulela Ditswe contestants to deny Autlwetse a victory. Even under that hostile environment Autlwetse lost to Seretse by a margin of 27 votes.
Seretse convincingly won the 2008 election with a margin of over 500 although they were also dogged by allegations of electoral irregularities. However Autlwetse insists this did not signal a rejection from the Serowe North community. Autlwetse according to sources maintained that that he was robbed, but instead of making noise about it he let it pass. According to his handlers Autlwetse did not fold his arms and wallow in self-pity, he changed tact and took his campaign to the people. The message to the people according to sources was simple, “…he was the best man for the job and that unlike his competitor he has good interpersonal and communication skills. This worked wonders for him. People received him in numbers,” commented one of his campaign managers recently in Serowe.
For a man who has just caused a major upset to president Khama’s first cousin and Ngwato royal, Autlwetse’s demeanour doesn’t say much about his famous victory. He doesn’t want to appear to be celebrating the demise of his powerful and well-connected competitor. He carefully chooses his words as he discusses the just-ended primary election in the constituency. But despite his humble approach he doesn’t hide the fact that he won the November 9 Bulela Ditswe election. “Yes I won the elections convincingly, the numbers speak for themselves,” he says without any shred of entitlement or celebration. Indeed the numbers appear to be saying the same thing. He won the election by a margin of 1309. In addition he won all the eight wards that make up Serowe North constituency. In a world of competitive sport this can be best described as complete ‘white wash’. Autlwetse appears not troubled by the idea that the BDP central committee may call for a re-run in the entire constituency following a complaint by Seretse that elections were marred with irregularities in Patikwane ward. He feels that the primaries should only be confined to Patikwane ward where a ballot box was kicked and destroyed by a party member.
Initially the electoral board had ordered a re-run in the constituency, only to retract the letter ordering a re-run and apologising to the candidates. The decision to have a re-run in the constituency or only in Patikwane ward hasn’t been reached yet. In the case that the party orders a re-run Autlwetse is convinced that he will still do well, but he doesn’t want this to end in a re-run in the entire constituency. But what will Autlwetse do should the BDP insist on a re-run? Will he go to court, as it was the case in 2003? He says that the idea of going to court hasn’t crossed his mind. While it is surprising that a man who many believe was robbed the 2003 Bulela Ditwse election, is still very much a BDP politician, Autlwetse is not surprised. “The reasons behind my stay in the party amid all these election controversies are because I like the party. It is my party. I have been a BDP member since 1975. The idea of joining an opposition party or even standing as an independent candidate has never crossed my mind,” he says.
He is motivated by Serowe North constituents who have continued to vote him all these years without fail. “The good thing for me is that even though I lost the controversial elections all these years, I have never suffered total rejection from the voters. For all the time I stood for the election [against Seretse] I have always performed well. In fact there are those who are even saying that I have won all the [primary] elections that I have participated in at parliamentary level. This has kept me going,” he said. He also stresses that Serowe North constituents know him very well. As council chairperson he never disappointed the residents in the area but in stead championed the development of the area, he maintains. When he lost elections BDP did not want anything to do with Autlwetse, sources in Serowe have said. They say that because he is a commoner and without any close association with top party brass he was not given an ambassadorial position or any other position in government. “Had the BDP appeased him with a government position we wouldn’t be where we are now. He would not have messed the president’s succession plan,” commented a source in Serowe.
Autlwetse however says that he didn’t need anyone to take care of him or any favours from the government. He is not bitter that he was never appointed to any government position after he lost the election to Seretse. “I didn’t join the BDP because I need to be given favours. I am still surviving even when I am not getting anything financially from the party,” he says.
What went into his mind when he controversially lost to Seretse on more than one occasion? “When you stand for elections you should be prepared for two eventualities, a win or a loss. I have always prepared myself for these two eventualities. Again I have always treated politics as a serious hobby that one joins to serve. This is why people should learn that when they lose elections they should accept the results and move on,” he says. He says that when other Bulela Ditswe candidates around the country were splashing money he spent his prudently. “All these years that I stood for Bulela Ditswe elections I have never spent extravagantly. I didn’t want a situation whereby I use all that belonged to my family on a political campaign. It is important for one to survive and live well after the election.” He says that unlike other politicians he has never been tempted to buy votes. His understanding is that voters are not ‘take aways.’ “Imagine the money that I would have used if I had decided to buy more than 12000 registered voters in the constituency. That would be too much. My approach is simple, thopo e a kopiwa,” he said.