Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politics has a radical new front man, and he is changing the party – for better or for worse.
Parks Tafa is one of the most recognised names in politics, but for an unelected man, he wields a level of influence most politicians could only dream of. As chairman of the BDP Electoral Board, Tafa planned and executed primary elections – despite the level of controversy surrounding them – and now has his eyes set on the General Elections in October 2014. He coughs out electoral orders and decides the fate of many politicians – like when he recommended that Gabane/Mmankgodi parliamentary candidate be disqualified from contesting last week. Mmoloki Raletobana knew that his fate has been sealed. He lost to listless Lesedi Mmusi despite Tafa’s intervention.
He declared Serowe North parliamentary candidate, Kgotla Autlwetse the victor in a highly disputed poll, but later took a back seat when his client, Ramadeluka Seretse cited Section 9(f) of the Party Primary Elections Rules and Regulation with respect to irregularities that occurred in the constituency. For a man who has read many books on law and negotiated major deals, it baffled politicians when he claimed that he was not aware of the section. In his early 50s’, Tafa lives the dream of many a BDP addict. He has the president’s ear and appears to have elbowed Khama’s confidantes. Tafa’s real power was noticeable when he orchestrated the downfall of BDP secretary general and respected party member, Gomolemo Motswaledi. After Motswaledi publicly repudiated a press statement issued by Tafa’s law firm Collins Newman and Company, which defended Khama’s unilateral appointments and renewing of the then BDP executive secretary Dr. Comma Serema’s contract of employment Motswaledi was suspended. He later resigned from the party out of frustration. That was Tafa’s power at play.
The Khama connection
Tafa and Khama are two sides of the same coin. Their professional and personal relationship stretches back to colonial times. Tafa’s father was Seretse Khama’s personal friend. “Every time when Ruth Khama visited Gaborone, she would pass by Collins Newman offices and have a cup of coffee,” a source closer to the firm revealed. He holds Khama’s interest at heart. While he is not a direct shareholder of Wilderness Safaris Holding, a Botswana Stock Exchange and JSE quoted tourism outfit, Khama owns 5 percent in Linyanti, a subsidiary of Wilderness Safaris Holdings Limited (WIL). Interestingly, two directors sitting on WIL board have close ties with Khama and one of them - no prize for guessing - is Parks Baledzi Tafa.
Khama’s family had sought Tafa’s counsel when they filed a defamation lawsuit against the Sunday Standard newspaper; even when Khama could have relied on legal advice from the Attorney General. When he was fighting his corruption allegations against the Directorate on Public Prosecution (DPP), cabinet minister, Ramadeluka Seretse preferred Tafa as his legal representative. Seretse is Khama’s cousin. Or maybe they discussed which lawyer to use when the State charged Seretse for allegedly failing to disclose his position as a shareholder in a company that was awarded a tender by his ministry. Not to be outdone, Finance Minister, Kenneth Matambo who has always distinguished himself as a clean bureaucrat turned politician, also rushed to the ‘premier’ lawyer when the state alleged that while as Managing Director of BDC in 2005 he had indirect interest in Tuwana Construction- a company that was building his house whilst it also had deals with BDC.
Tafa’s firm grip on the BDP
Tafa always wins. He emerged a victor in the recent BDP internal squabbles, which led to the demise of party chairman, Samson Moyo Guma. Tafa benefitted and was elevated to a new role of overseeing “everything” in BDP. As farfetched as it may seem, as things stand, Tafa has a firm grip on the BDP. How he has been able to consolidate power within the BDP is subject of debate at the corridors at Tsholetsa and among the political pundits around the country. After months of infighting between Guma’s central committee and Tafa’s electoral board for the control of the party Tafa can now boast that he has ‘won the fight’. The central committee according to sources had complained earlier that they were alienated from the party’s critical decisions and that Tafa was the one running the show alone. The situation worsened after the first primary elections in the northern parts of the country that led to the fall of senior party members. MPs and other losing candidates are said to have pointed a finger at Guma for orchestrating their loss. Guma who was said to harbour ambitions of becoming vice president after the 2014 general elections, was accused of making sure that his preferred parliamentary candidates win the primaries. This according to sources was interpreted as a way of frustrating the president’s succession plan. Guma together with his closest allies, secretary general Mpho Balopi and deputy treasurer Thapelo Olopeng were accused of trying to frustrate Khama’s plan sources have alleged. Sources close to the three men this week dismissed the allegations as ‘smear campaign’ by some people within the BDP. “Guma and his team tried to fight back and get the full control of the party, but he failed,” said a source. The situation got worse when the electoral board decided to unilaterally order a re-run in Serowe North without the involvement of the central committee. “Guma and Balopi were furious about the decision,” said a source.
According to a reliable source realising that Tafa was now in control of the party, they rushed to the president and informed him that Tafa was trying to take over the party from them. It is said that the alleged meetings to undermine and topple the central committee by Tafa were held at his law firm. Last Thursday Khama according to sources arranged an impromptu meeting between Guma and his team and Tafa, where the tables turned against Guma and his team. “Khama supported the work that Tafa is doing as the electoral board chair and felt that Guma and his team were trying to mislead him into thinking that Tafa was trying to take over the party,” said a source. It is said that the president was hard on the three men. It is said he then gave Tafa as the head of the electoral board powers to handle all the issues surrounding the primary elections. Following the developments and realising that there was no way he was going to get Tafa out of the picture, Guma decided to quit his position, sources have told Botswana Guardian.
It is alleged that both Olopeng and Balopi are also seriously thinking of quitting. The turn of events now means that Tafa, though an unelected official remains the most powerful figure within the BDP. Not just in politics, Tafa’s influence is felt in many corridors at government enclave and in businesses. “When he calls, government employees run as if they are children frightened by their father,” said a government employee at the Attorney General Chambers.