Tati West offers BPP a chance for redemption

The Tati West constituency is one of the two constituencies that constitute the North East District. The other constituency being Tati East. Until 2004 following a delimitation exercise, the two constituencies together formed what was called the North East constituency. 

 

The North East constituency, of which the ten-year old Tati West constituency was part, has the distinction of being one of the only three constituencies won by the opposition in the first election in 1965. From then until 1989, Tati West, an entirely rural constituency, remained in the grip of the Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) which rallied the people, who are predominantly Bakalanga, around the issue of their language especially after its removal from the school curriculum in 1972.

Hitherto, the single most crucial issue was land, most of which remained in the hands of the Tati Company. Racial tensions between the white farmers and their black employees also fed the BPP political arsenal. With its star waning partly because of a leadership crisis after losing its charismatic leader, Philip Matante in 1979, the BPP lost the constituency to Chapson Butale of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) who had been made a specially elected Member of Parliament for the area after the 1984 general election.

The infrastructural development that took place after his nomination, was attributed to him despite the fact that Nkhwa had been advocating for the same developments over the years. In 2004, the constituency changed guard when Charles Tibone became the new MP. Between Butale and Tibone, the constituency has seen heightened infrastructural development in the form of inter-village roads as well as internal ones. The majority of villages have been electrified. There has also been a good water reticulation efforts despite shortcomings.

The constituency has also witnessed the building of a sewerage system and several bridges. It also boasts of a primary hospital in Masunga village, as well as clinics and health posts. Government has, over the years, been buying farms and making them available to communities to alleviate shortage of land for farming purposes. Land, however, remains a source of tension in the constituency. It is estimated that, close to 43 percent of the land in the district, most of which is owned by the Tati Company, is in private hands making land for farming, industrial, commercial, residential or any other use very scarce and expensive.

The high unemployment rate, which emanates from the absence of a strong private sector base especially in the manufacturing industry, save for retail shops, an odd grain milling, bakery or motor garage here and there, has resulted in high dependency rates due to poverty. This is despite the fact that several of the villages in the constituency have got an industrial site. Although agriculture is the single most important economic activity albeit at a subsistence level, there has been low productivity in crop production partly due to the use of traditional methods of farming and continued drought. Also, the constituency has been hit by foot and mouth disease.

The deaths, in large numbers over the years, of many able bodied due to HIV/AIDS, have not helped the situation. The result has not only been the rise of the number of orphans in the constituency. There has been an increase in the number of families headed by either grandparents or children when the children’s parents have succumbed to the disease. To address some of the problems here, the District Development Plan 7 (DDP 7) intends, among other things, to harness local resources to promote local economic activity in the district. In this regard, not only will cultural and historical sites in the district be promoted, but lodge licences will be reserved for locals. Despite the availability of big rivers such as Ntshe, Shashe, Ramokgwebana and Tati, the district is in dire need for an irrigation scheme.

To close this gap, DDP 7 envisages the construction of multi-purpose dams in order to promote irrigation farming as well as the setting up of research centres in aid of farming in the two constituencies constituting the district. As the country goes to the election later this year, the voters will decide who among the candidates to delegate to council or parliament to hopefully find effective solutions to their problems. The BDP, represented by Biggie Butale, would like to retain the constituency while the BPP and its candidate, Richard Gudu, will be fighting to reclaim it after forfeiting it 25 years ago.

Although the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) has contested Tati West in the past and lost badly, it appears the party, represented by Philip Bulawa, intends to be taken seriously this time around. Butale will no doubt tap on the popularity of the party president, Ian Khama. He will remind all and sundry that the BDP has got a good development record in the constituency which includes a senior secondary school in Masunga and several primary and junior secondary ones. Because he is new, many who had lost hope in the system might have renewed hope in him.

The split of the BDP in 2010 resulting in the birth of the BMD might hurt Butale’s chances. And so may his continued party’s tiff with the workers. On the other hand, Gudu’s experience having contested twice might work for him.The fact that he lost by a mere 800 votes to the highly resourced Tibone will no doubt give him hope. The BDP split after the 2009 general election might favour him as well. The fact that the BPP is in a cooperation arrangement with the Botswana National Front(BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) to form the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)will no doubt improve Gudu’s chances. Bulawa, a university lecturer might steal the limelight from Gudu.

As a first timer, Bulawa would however have to double his efforts so that he goes beyond splitting the votes to the advantage of the BDP and market himself enough to be considered a viable alternative to both Butale and Gudu.The recent translation of the BCP national manifesto and publication of a local manifesto in Kalanga as well as the apparent repackaging of the land issue, which, for many years has been a BPP campaign issue, could sway the voters in favour of Bulawa. The BCP might also benefit from BPP, BNF and BMD members who are against the UDC.

Tati West has got two layers of independent candidates all from the BDP. The one layer consists of Farai Bonyongo, a parliamentary candidate with his own council candidates. The other layer consists of at least five council candidates in the constituency. This second layer is independent from Bonyongo. What the two layers have in common is that, all resigned from the BDP citing corrupt practices in the primary elections recently. The five independent council candidates are important to Butale, Gudu and Bulawa. Although it might be difficult for Butale to win them to his side since they recently left the BDP after the controversial primary elections, they are a decisive factor in the election.

As if they had talked among themselves, all the three interviewed by the Botswana Guardian, variously confirmed that at the opportune time, they would openly lobby their supporters to vote for a specified parliamentary candidate. They asked not to be identified. Butale will certainly draw sustenance from the fact that one of the primary election losers, Peter Ngoma, has recently relented on his earlier threats to de-campaign him. Ngoma attended Butale’s launch three weeks ago and endorsed him. 

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