Advocate Sidney Pilane, the man at the centre of the current bickering at the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), has thrown the gauntlet at the leadership and a spanner in the works insisting on Friday that he is a member of the party.
The claim comes just hours after BMD President Ndaba Gaolathe threatened disciplinary action against Secretary General Gilbert Mangole and National chairman Nehemiah Modubule, following a fall-out at the National Executive Committee (NEC) last weekend.
In a strong worded letter on Thursday Gaolathe ordered the duo to stop dividing the party, before ordering that Pilane's application for re-admission into the BMD will be decided at congress in 2017. Pilane – a founding member and architect of the BMD constitution – has dismissed suggestions that he is not member of the party. In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday Pilane poured scorn on Gaolathe’s letter that he is not yet a BMD member, saying he was re-admitted two months ago. He cast aspersions on Gaolathe's decision, saying maybe Gaolathe and company are talking about a different Sidney Pilane. “I have not seen the letter but I am just wondering where he got the idea that I am not a BMD member,” said the outspoken advocate.
Gaolathe, who is in Switzerland attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, said the manner in which Mangole carried himself is divisive and therefore under the circumstances, Pilane’s membership issue will be discussed at the party’s next congress. Issuing a warning to Mangole and Modubule, Gaolathe said their behaviour was inappropriate and unfair and they should revise their conduct “or the people will revise it for you.” The soft-spoken Gaolathe cited the powers conferred on him by the constitution but was quick to add that he is conscious of his role and responsibility to be a guarantor of fairness and unity.
BMD Vice President Wynter Mmolotsi confirmed that Gaolathe has written them a letter regarding developments from last weekend. Asked if they don’t think the issue of Pilane membership application has the potential to divide the party, the Francistown South MP acknowledged that it does, but was quick to note that it is not a big issue as some people want to portray it. He said their next NEC meeting is not going to be derailed by Pilane’s membership application.
Pilane wants to be re-admitted into the party after he took leave from politics. The controversy over his return is at the centre of a political chess game playing out at BMD. Some inside the party feel that Pilane's intention is to challenge Ndaba Gaolathe for the presidency while others suggest that he is returning to spy on BMD after being linked with the DIS boss Isaac Kgosi. Pilane said suggestions that he is with DIS is utter rubbish. “I am not going to dignify that nonsense with a comment," he fumed.
But in a letter written on May 12, 2015 Pilane said: "I have no intention of returning to the BMD to seek to replace Hon. Gaolatlhe or to be included in any structure. If I should return to the BMD, and I do not know if I will, I will not seek any position. I have requested to see Hon. Gaolatlhe in order to reassure him of this. He said he would give me a time. I anxiously await his call. It is my sincere hope that the National Executive Committee of the BMD will handle this crisis with cool heads, and with maturity. And the Committee needs to enforce discipline in the ranks, for the nation is watching the public spectacle with growing apprehension".
Pilane’s first foray into BMD’s political game was in 2011 when he was defeated by Gomolemo Motswaledi for the party presidency. It was his nadir in politics. Always not far from BMD politics, Pilane resurfaced at BMD after the death of Motswaledi helping with identifying an independent pathologist who investigated the cause of death. He even housed the pathologist and helped in paying his fees. He was later to rise again, outside BMD as legal adviser to Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) Director Isaac Kgosi who was embattled in a corruption case. His association with Kgosi fueled speculation among some party members that the ruling party Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is trying to use him to destabilise BMD.
Pilane's name resurfaced in BMD politics during the Youth League Congress held in Mochudi when news that he had sponsored a section of the youth emerged. This was denied by Mangole who was coordinating the congress which degenerated into chaos with youth factions fighting for dominance. In an interview recently Mangole confirmed that Pilane funded the BMDYL elective congress with P10, 000. News of Pilane seeking readmission followed shortly, but was deferred ahead of the elective congress in Gantsi. Those close to BMD inner politics have revealed that except for Gaolathe and his deputy Mmolotsi, most of the NEC members are on Pilane’s side. After the Gantsi congress, Gaborone North Branch recommended to NEC to reject Pilane's membership application. Gaborone North thought they had Pilane against the ropes but he wriggled out and applied for membership at Mochudi West branch. “By fighting for the admission of Pilane into the party, Mangole and company are alerting the sleeping dogs in BMD that Advocate Pilane was no longer a common soul but a monumental power player and one that was indispensable,” said the source within the party leadership.
The Mochudi West constituency recommended that he be re-admitted into the party he founded five years ago. Ahead of the Sunday meeting Mangole said Pilane has a constitutional right to join the party of his choice. Allegations are that Pilane enjoys the support of Mangole and Modubule, something which Mangole rubbished.
Mangole confirmed that Pilane contributed financially to the elective congress which was held in Gantsi but could not reveal the amount he used. Mangole also confirmed that Pilane also funded both the women and youth league congresses. BMDYL President Phenyo Segokgo refused to comment on the issue, saying he is conflicted and referred the issue to Youth League Publicity Secretary who did not answer his phone.