Tonota South legislator Pono Moatlhodi might find himself in the political wilderness even before the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections later this year, Northern Extra has learnt. Inside sources have hinted that party leader [President] Ian Khama is fed up with the maverick MP’s relentless veiled attacks on the president’s trademark humanitarian gestures that include, among other things, donating blankets to the needy including in his own Tonota South constituency.
Recently, when responding to finance minister Kenneth Matambo’s budget speech in parliament, Moatlhodi remarked that he was aware that Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had bought some blankets for donation to people in his constituency, a remark which many interpreted as a veiled attack on the president.
During his presentation Moatlhodi – who is also the Deputy Speaker of Parliament – said he had no problem with the blankets being given to the president as long as ultimately Khama would pass on the blankets to the Department of Social and Community Development for donation to the intended recipients. “But I have a problem when these blankets are distributed by some people in order that they should gain cheap political mileage,” remarked the MP without mentioning names.
Moatlhodi’s remarks while general in their nature were largely construed as an indirect reference to his political nemesis and home boy, Thapelo Olopeng - who is believed to enjoy Khama’s support in his quest to challenge Moatlhodi during the ruling party’s primary elections. Olopeng is Khama’s confidante.
Those who are following internal developments at BDP say the president is not taking kindly to Moatlhodi’s remarks which he views as an indirect slur against him. “Generally, Khama has always viewed Moatlhodi as a disrespectful fellow who is given to challenging him openly at the slightest opportunity he gets.
What has irked the president even more is the insinuation that Khama may be fighting Olopeng’s political battles by giving him the blankets bought through public funds for donation to the poor thereby aiding his [Olopeng] political campaign and in turn giving him unfair advantage over him [Moatlhodi]. This is akin to saying that the president is corrupt,” said a BDP insider.
Meantime, when the legislator was firing at him in parliament Olopeng was in Tonota donating five wheelchairs to some of the village’s primary schools. Against the backdrop of the love-hate relationship between Moatlhodi and Khama, some within the BDP are already predicting the MP’s political death saying this time around the president has had enough of Moatlhodi.
In fact there is mounting speculation within the BDP circles that Khama may be looking to influence the party central committee to vet Moatlhodi out of the primary elections thereby paving way for Olopeng. “I don’t see him [Khama] forgiving Moatlhodi this time around and he may just call for the MP’s ouster,” said another source. It is not the first time that Moatlhodi has been in hot waters for attacking Khama thereby bringing the name of the BDP into disrepute.
During a heated parliamentary debate in 1999 when MPs were demanding salary and allowance increases, Khama – who was Vice President then – branded them vultures for agitating for their welfare while they were not doing the same for civil servants.
Never the one to run short of words, Moatlhodi responded by saying that some people could afford to oppose MPs’ salary increase because they were sitting comfortably as they had inherited huge estates and large herds of cattle. As usual he did not mention names, but everyone knew he was referring to Khama.
Moatlhodi would later be forced to apologise following pressure from his constituents who felt he had insulted their paramount chief. Nine years later, the MP was at it again criticising Khama’s government for what he said was a new trend of “demilitarising the civil service” after Khama had appointed a senior army officer to head the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation ahead of serving officers.
He was later recalled by the party in 2008 and was saved by a delegation of Tonota residents who went to see Khama and pleaded with him to forgive Moatlhodi, which Khama did albeit reluctantly – and since then the two men have never been the best of friends. In the past the MP has gone on record saying that he would declare war should the president give blankets acquired with taxpayers’ money to any politician in order that they should gain political mileage over others, especially him.