At the risk of causing divisions within the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the collective will soon be issuing membership cards to individuals wanting to join it directly.
The UDC is an opposition coalition constituted by the Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP), Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Since its formation two years ago, the UDC has always operated as the mother-body of the three parties by not providing for individual membership to it.
Instead, it was the three parties that were members of the UDC that could accept individual members. Confirming speculation that has been in circulation for some time that the mother-body would soon be issuing membership cards to individuals, the chairman of the UDC, Motlatsi Molapisi told a political rally at Tutume recently that the three parties have experienced resistance from many people who do not want to join any of them directly.
Instead, according to him, they want to join the Umbrella directly. “The consultation process by the contracting parties is over. The membership form should have been launched in December but had to be deferred because of unforeseen circumstances. We were looking to launch it in February this year but with the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) almost certainly joining the UDC, we might need to further defer it to give the party the opportunity to have a say in the matter,” said the veteran of opposition politics.
However, political and social commentator, Anthony Morima finds it incredulous that anybody with an inclination towards the UDC will have difficulty joining any of its affiliates. There are widespread concerns that, should the UDC issue membership cards to individuals, it will be directly competing with its affiliates for membership. A BNF veteran who preferred anonymity for discussing party matters without authorisation said that, he last heard about the issue at a BNF meeting where there was serious objection to it.
“It is such a terrible idea. You cannot have a situation where the mother-body is competing with its affiliates for members,” he said. Apparently, dual membership will be provided for those who seek membership of the UDC while they are card-carrying members of one of the affiliating parties. Regarding those who prefer to become members of the UDC only, it is not clear whether they will have a stake at the various party fora such as conferences or seminars. There are also concerns as to what will happen to those whose party is only the UDC in the event the coalition collapses.
Said Molapisi regarding the fate of those who will be aligned to the UDC without being members of any of the affiliating parties, “Our belief is that the UDC will endure forever. We do not expect it to collapse and have the BPP, BNF and BMD go their separate ways.” He argued that many people want the threesome to coalesce into a single entity.
However, not everybody believes the coalition will exist forever. “It was never intended to be so. This is not a merger but just a tactic for assuming state power. UDC has never been intended to be a party,” said another BNF activist also preferring anonymity for fear of reprisals. His belief is that, opposition parties have failed to learn from the mistakes of the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM).
BAM was formed towards the 1999 general elections by the Botswana Action Party (BAP) and BPP. The relationship ended acrimoniously in 2000 with the BPP losing scores of its officials and cadres to BAM which had been controversially registered as a political party. The BNF activist anticipates a situation where, at some point, the three parties may go their separate ways.
“Just as BAM became a rival to the BPP, we run the risk of facing UDC as a rival at some point in time should we make the mistake of turning the UDC into a political party. This will be a mistake,” said the BNF activist who lamented that those wanting to merge the UDC affiliates into a party are clueless about what a Front is. As far as he is concerned, the decision to give membership cards to UDC members is too grave to be made by the leaderships of the contracting parties.
“It is a decision which can only come from a congress and no BNF congress has deliberated on the matter. Our Sefhare congress rejected the idea of a merger. As things are, the leadership wants to impose this on us without any discussion and this might cause complications,” he said.
In his view, instead of pandering to the whims of those wanting to join the UDC and not and its affiliates, UDC cadres should educate the potential recruits on the meaning of a Front and the dangers of strengthening the Umbrella at the expense of its feeders.
Former president of the BCP, Michael Dingake agrees. “It is important that the general membership of the UDC be taken on board. There is need for public education on the intention to merge the parties. Should the UDC leadership impose its decisions on the people, there is bound to be instability,” he said.
Political analyst Morima said that it would be unlawful for the UDC to behave like a political party when it is not a party, “If indeed those forms have been finalised, what was the basis for making them? The status quo at the UDC must continue until at such a time when the UDC decides to be a political party. Although we do not know explicitly what the UDC constitution says on this matter, we know that the spirit of an Umbrella is for people to continue belonging to their parties. What is being suggested is not in the interest of the affiliates. The UDC is likely to weaken its affiliates and eventually kill them.”
Professor Zibani Maundeni believes that those opposed to the issuing of UDC membership cards to individuals have got misplaced concerns. “They are creating factionalism out of nothing. The expectation is that, with time, the affiliates should disappear or remain just affiliates. It is the UDC that must grow and not its affiliates,” said Professor Maundeni.