Almost all the registered political parties in Botswana have a youth league. Political youth wings are generally expected to help invigorate their mother parties into competitive entities as well as bring youth issues to the table as they deliberate on those of national interest as well. Youth leagues are also expected to be the training ground for party leadership.
Over the years, most youth leagues have been paralysed by apathy to the point of being dysfunctional. National conferences are not held regularly contrary to the constitutional requirements, committee meetings are either not held or where they are held, they are illegal because those attending don’t form a quorum. Instead of addressing pertinent issues, youth wings have found themselves as pawns in the factional wars bedeviling the mother parties. Because of negative perceptions towards the youth, parties have relegated youth wings to cheerleaders instead of drawing them from the wings into the mainstream of party activities. Not only is it a democratic imperative to involve the youth in the decisionmaking process because they are a majority.
Their technological and educational savvy can no doubt enhance the party proﬁle and the performance of the party in an election. Political parties that allow the youth the opportunity to participate beyond singing in party choirs give the youth a chance to hone their leadership skills thereby ensuring the future of the organisation itself. While some of our parties have had youth leagues from as early as the 1960s, there is little evidence in support of the youth league being a ground for raising leadership for the party. The Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) Youth League played a vanguard role in our politics back in the pre-independence days when it used “muscle power” against racist laws in the then Bechuanaland protectorate.
Ironically, this structure, although still catered for by the constitution, does not exist. Before the sad development the structure produced the likes of Motlatsi Molapisi, Bernard Balikani who later led the mother party respectively. Although in power, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has not been led by a former youth league activist. Nor have many former youth league members become ministers. The Botswana National Front Youth League (BNFYL) was known for radicalism during the time of Kenneth Koma as president. Apparently, they were even viewed as a security threat by government as a group of them were denied permission to leave the country on scholarships to Cuba.
This was amid speculation that they sought to get military training outside Botswana. Later, the party would raise ﬁery youth leaders such as Nelson Ramaotwana, Gabriel Kanjabanga and Lemogang Ntime but their careers ended in rather acrimonious circumstances before they had the opportunity to lead at the national level. Te president of the BCP, Dumelang Saleshando, whose youth league, led by Dithapelo Keorapetse, is arguably more vocal on national issues, has served in the party youth league. Te past immediate president of the BCPYL, Lotty Manyepedza contested the position of party national chairman and later national organising secretary and lost on both instances. Aﬅer his loss, he lambasted the youth for failing to support him. In a recent interview, he said that the youth are always disadvantaged by lack of resources. “They also seem to have no faith in each other,” he said.
He found it unfortunate that, instead of meaningfully empowering the youth, political leaderships take advantage of their economic vulnerability to exploit them. “I also ﬁnd it unfortunate that young people almost never make it to the top in the mother body,” lamented Manyepedza who is a council candidate for Naledi central in the Gaborone south constituency. Manyepedza, who believes that there can be no regime change without vibrant youth leagues across the political divide, sprung to prominence four years ago when he led a group of BCPYL to the Btv station to demand an explanation on why the station had not covered the launch of a BCP candidate despite earlier assurances from the station that the event would be covered.
Charged with trespassing which was later changed to use of abusive language, the case would later be withdrawn. Regarding autonomy, he would like a situation whereby the youth league of the BCP has got its own constitution and bank account. “I am not privy to how far the current committee has gone in creating membership cards for the youth league,” he said. Like Manyepedza, the past immediate president of the BNF, Tona Mooketsi, is not happy with the situation where membership to the party automatically translates into membership of the youth league. “Before I leﬅ, I presided over the draﬅing of a constitution for the youth league.
I am of the view that the youth are not coming forward in the right numbers to push for their rights,” he said. Mooketsi also boasts of having led the BNFYL in a number of community projects as well as marches on June 16. His take is that youth leagues are struggling because of lack of funds. “The majority of youth in Botswana are unemployed so travelling to meetings becomes a problem when the mother body does not have money. This makes it possible for the helpless youth to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians. His successor, Kemmonye Makatane insisted that the BNFYL remains vibrant. “We have not been taking to the streets but have issued press statements on matters of national interest because Botswana is a peace-loving country,” he said.
For his part, the president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Phenyo Segokgo, insists that his group is not a bunch of pushovers. “We disagree with the leadership sometimes on issues but manage to resolve them as equals. We are not marginalised as youth,” said Segokgo, himself a council candidate in Tlokweng. Segokgo, whose youth league is only one year old hopes the BMDYL will churn out leaders for the party in future. Social commentator Anthony Morima regrets that instead of advancing, the inﬂuence of the youth in our politics is declining. “Political consciousness is dead. The youth simply need to rise to the occasion and stop making excuses. On the other hand, political parties must conduct political education for their members especially the youth,” he said.