After the 8th May 2019 general election in South Africa where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) won albeit with a reduced popular vote of 57%, some political analysts argued that had it not been for President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa’s own popularity and acceptance across the political divide, the ANC would have done badly to the point of losing power. This because of the many socio-economic situations and challenges allegedly aided and abetted by the ANC. These include but not limited to: stinking grand corruption elevated to state capture; stinking inequalities and joblessness. Here at home, Batswana face the same socio-economic situations and challenges under the ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) leadership of President M.E.K. Masisi hence the question, can Masisi save the BDP? Let me look at how Ramaphosa allegedly saved the ANC in an election it was not expected to win comfortably.
Before doing so, it is important to state that there are political similarities between Ramaphosa and Masisi. Firstly, they both finished the constitutional terms of their predecessors. While Masisi’s term finishing was as a result of automatic succession, Ramaphosa’s was as result of avoiding two centres of power whereupon he had to push his predecessor out of position. Secondly, they assumed their positions within a month of each other in the same year, 2018. Thirdly, their political parties faced some internal challenges upped by the visible and vicious factions through their predecessors. The factions in the BDP have become visible and vicious in the recent past. Fourthly and as stated above, the socio-economic situations bedevilling the two Presidents leading to the general election were more or less the same.
Faced with the prospect of losing a general election occasioned by the socio-economic situations and challenges; runaway corruption; almost a stagnant economic growth unable to generate expected spin offs, Ramaphosa publicly acknowledged that his party was responsible for the situation South Africa found herself in. For South Africans to have given the ANC another chance, it was important to unconditionally acknowledge such responsibility. Thereafter, Ramaphosa was unavoidably compelled to show the South Africans that he was serious in addressing the socio-economic situations and challenges. Beyond public statements to that effect, he set up judicial inquiries and commissions notable of which is the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture chaired by that country’s Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. All manner of grand corruption-cum-state capture aided and abetted by senior state employees and politicians is daily being revealed at this inquiry. Huge sums of money meant to address the socio-economic situations of the poorest of South Africans, have according to the revelations at the inquiry, found themselves in the wrong hands. Just before the elections, South Africa was hit by a massive load shedding never witnessed which naturally could make voters have second thoughts about voting for the ANC.
Ramaphosa was not only faced with socio-economic issues confronting his compatriots. He had to watch his back on the goings on in the ANC. And this against the backdrop of him winning the presidency of the party at the 54th National Congress by the smallest of the margins-179 to be precise out of over 4500 delegates. This meant that about half of the delegates or so did not vote for him which in turn suggested that the ANC was split right down the middle. Consequently, a political fight back by the anti Ramaphosa faction allegedly supported by those who were allies of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma remains Ramaphosa’s biggest threat to his presidency. To the credit of the ANC, it never split which may have adversely impacted on its elections outcomes. This fight back, some South African political analysts argue, will be subside for a short while and resurface when the ANC is closer to an elective congress. These analysts tell us that given the very bad shape the ANC was in after the 2016 local government elections in which the ANC did very badly, Ramaphosa and in his own personality that was widely accepted, significantly contributed to the ANC winning the general election. They say if Zuma was the president of the ANC at the time of the election, the party would have done badly than it did under Ramaphosa. His management of the Zuma issue did not severely damage the ANC in elections because he accommoded his (Zuma’s) supporters where they were seen campaigning for the ANC.
When President Masisi took over from Khama, he faced the same socio-economic problems as did Ramaphosa. Over and above these, billions if not trillions of Pula were said to have disappeared from the fiscus with grand corruption the order of the day. During his early statements after taking office, Masisi made a few promises with time frames. He promised that by September 2018, the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) would be resuscitated and running; that by the November 2018 parliament session, the Bill on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities would be on the parliament floor. To this day, these two promises are yet to be realised with no plausible explanation coming through. As a starting point, these two issues would have put Masisi on pole position in earning public confidence.
Upping the ante to gain public confidence, Masisi promised to revive the All Party Conference through the statement by his Vice His Honour Slumber Tsogwane which promise was duly accepted by different political parties. Ever since, the All Party Conference talk has died some cruel death. Masisi would have gained a long political mileage from this noble initiative. Realising that the trade union movement is an important constituency in elections, Masisi made the right moves by coming closer to it. It would appear the trade union movement was buoyed by, with the greatest of respect, the ‘false’ belief that the PSBC which is in their best interests, would be resuscitated. Hence their warming up to the President overtures. Not long after the warming up did the President take unions by surprise when it was announced that public service unions would be deregistered. To be fair to Masisi, he fired the controversial erstwhile DIS Director, increased public servants salaries.
On the political front, he appears to be intolerant to differing views. I have mentioned before that the way the BDP Kang conference was handled is one example of such intolerance where his challenger was put at a disadvantage at every turn; the high handedness in dealing with some members of his party in terms of disciplinary processes overly diminished the good he would have done. This high handedness it could be argued rightly or wrongly, has created the political fluidity currently obtaining in the BDP which has resulted in some members jumping ship to form another political party supported by Khama. I still believe that for his political convenience and nothing else, Masisi has not smartly managed his differences with Khama to a point where he could be the deciding factor whether or not Masisi wins in October. It is a given that Khama has nothing to lose than Masisi whereupon the latter had to do anything and everything in his power to ensure that the former does not gain any ground to be in pole position.
Considering that Masisi had all the advantage and goodwill from arguably a large section of his compatriots if the grapevine is to be believed, he somewhat spurned the golden opportunity to take advantage especially that Botswana was emerging from a brutal Khama administration characterised by many unpopular and fatal decisions which on the face of them, did not go down well with compatriots. The failure to ensure that the above listed promises he made were carried out without failure, were a precursor to what was to follow next. Masisi should have used the biggest National Petroleum Fund (NPF) scandal that emerged three months or so before he assumed office as a trump card to show that he is indeed intent on fighting corruption. Instead, he played the victim card instead of instituting a commission of inquiry or some other process that could dig steeper into finding what happened. To this point, it is all about huffing and puffing with respect to the NPF scandal where one senses that nothing telling could come out of the court processes given the seemingly poor investigations. Over and above anything else and like I have already pointed out, his biggest undoing is his failure to smartly and strategically manage his conflict with Khama.
In summing up, I believe that Masisi has not done enough to save the BDP though he had the opportunity to do so. Unlike Ramaphosa who against all odds effectively used his own persona to endear the ANC to the general populace, I am afraid Masisi has not in my view, exhibited the same. The emergence of the Botswana Patriotic Front, and whether it was formed out of sheer anger or not, is not the issue. The issue is that it was formed by former members of the BDP during Masisi’s presidency just like the BMD was formed during Khama’s presidency. Consequently, the BDP could be staring at defeat. While it looks down and out, it could be saved by whether the UDC takes advantage or whether it also drops the ball as it looks to be doing. Judge for Yourself!