The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) rally held in Tutume village in the Nkange constituency on Saturday exposed cracks in the three-party opposition coalition front.
The most obvious sign of the divisions was the absence of Kgomotso Shongwe and all the six council candidates from the rally which was addressed, among others, by Ndaba Gaolathe and Motlatsi Molapisi who are secretary general and national chairman of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) respectively.
Also in that order, the two are presidents of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) respectively. Both parties alongside the Botswana National Front (BNF) are affiliates of the UDC. The rally also attracted Botswana Congress Party (BCP) senior politicians such as Batisani Maswibilili and Never Tshabang.
Conspicuous by their absence were Shongwe and all the ten council candidates for the constituency at the 2014 general election. The boycotting council candidates included the only BPP council candidate in the constituency, Onious Mpati. Apparently, the rally was the culmination of a three-day mobilisation effort in the constituency which was led by the BPP.
For starters, the Nkange constituency was one of the six constituencies allocated to the BPP countrywide during the constituency allocations among the UDC members in the run up to the last general election.
Because the party could not raise a candidate, it asked Botswana National Front to provide the candidate. When contacted for comment regarding his absence from the rally, Shongwe who doubles as chairman of the constituency, said that the time was not ripe.
“After we have met and fixed our issues, I will call you and give you the answers you want. This is a difficult constituency hence the need for us to be careful,” he said without confirming or denying that he had deliberately boycotted the event. Asked why he had boycotted an event led by his own party, Mpati referred this publication to Shongwe.
When addressing the rally on Saturday afternoon, Molapisi had assured some faceless disgruntled members of UDC that his party had no intentions of taking the constituency from anybody. “Whoever will represent us in the next general election will be the best candidate as determined by the UDC. It could be somebody from the BPP, BNF, BMD or even BCP for that matter,” he said.
The BCP, which is not a member of the UDC, is reportedly in talks with the UDC with the view to joining. Many on the side lines of the rally insisted that Molapisi’s message of assurance was directed to Shongwe and the council candidates.
There is suspicion that Shongwe is unsettled by the BPP’s mobilisation activities in the constituency which he reads to mean that, should the party raise a candidate, it might ask the constituency back before the 2019 general election. “Of course there is disunity which results from false perceptions. I am disappointed because I certainly did not expect the boycott.
We are committed to opposition cooperation. Our mobilisation activities should not alarm anybody. We are targeting BDP members and people who do not belong to any party.
Our members are going to be asked to vote for the opposition candidate here. Our intention is not to take the constituency from anybody,” said Molapisi in an interview early this week.