Botsalo Ntuane faces a bleak political future. The coming months will be critical in determining how he will salvage whatever is possible under the circumstances. With stark reality staring at him, Botsalo Ntuane has remained defiant – in public he remains the staunchest defender of the current regime. But deep inside he is a deeply troubled soul – he has faced the worst form of rejection from the party he has dedicated his life to. His public demeanour stands in direct contrast to the absolute humiliation he is enduring. The superiors at Tsholetsa House, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) headquarters, still see him tainted and untrustworthy – for having defected at some point to form a splinter party – despite having been forgiven by members enough for them to elect him as the Secretary General. Anywhere else this position wields vast power and influence, with the incumbent being the kingmaker who determines together with President and party chairman key appointments. Not for Ntuane or any other recent Secretary General. The last real powerful Secretary General of the party was the party veteran Daniel Kwelagobe. All others have been systematically reduced to lame ducks. That Ntuane’s future under the current party leader and his possible successor is bleak has never been more pronounced than in the recent appointment of Specially Elected Members of Parliament (SEMPs). None of those that President Ian Khama went out to change the country’s constitution for, to appoint to Parliament, tower in skill and influence above Ntuane. Yet he got the slap on the face. His political future under the circumstances has never been under serious jeopardy. Though some claim that his relationship with Khama has improved a lot, it appears, he has not gotten anything from that. Again with Khama stepping down in less than two years, Ntuane cannot hope for a lot from him.
It was not an easy beginning. At the University of Botswana (UB) where opposition’s domination is decades old, Ntuane braved it all and set out to show that conviction can conquer. In cultivating a strong ruling party cell and grooming ground club for the ruling party leadership under the axis of GS26, it didn’t take long for him to earn himself recognition from the party lords. With the all-powerful Daniel Kwelagobe taking note, Ntuane’s first access to real power was paved. That was in the early 1990s. He was to spend most of his university days often dodging class to pursue his political agenda. To some extent it worked – BDP for the first time became a factor in UB students’ politics; he was elected an SRC minister. When graduation came at UB, Ntuane who was set to be an English teacher, headed straight to Tsholetsa House; not the class room. Starting off as an education officer, it didn’t take long for him to rise to the top most office in the secretariat – the Executive Secretary. He served until 2004 when President Festus Mogae nominated him for Parliament. In 2009 elections he won the Gaborone West South seat defying the political order of the time when the opposition was the most dominant party in the city. He was not seen as good material enough for cabinet.
The year 2009 was to mark a turning point in BDP politics. Ntuane, a long term member of a faction trading as Barata-Phathi, had spearheaded the campaign of his grouping in Central Committee elections. The faction made a clean sweep and took charge of the party. A highly gifted orator Gomolemo Motswaledi (May his soul rest in peace) fought tooth and nail to win the coveted position of Secretary General. Veteran Kwelagobe had even resigned his cabinet position to contest and win chairman seat. Party president seemingly didn’t take kindly to this faction, having personally campaigned against it. Sooner than later the fallout was in the open. Motswaledi was suspended and blocked from contesting the 2009 elections at Gaborone Central where he had won primaries. Ultimately, a compromise candidate Kgomotso Mogami replaced him. Ntuane stood by Motswaledi through and through. He fought alongside him even as they escalated the matter to the High Court where the matter only served to buttress the impunity enjoyed by State President in all decisions he takes while in office. Ultimately it became a case of staying bottled up in a party they felt had been expropriated by one person or they vote with their feet. They stormed out of the BDP; creating the first major split of the ruling party since independence. With 10 MPs dumping the red, black and white BDP attire, they all turned to a new orange movement – Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD); clearly spelling as the name suggests that were running away from autocracy. Ntuane was among the leading faces of the new movement. But as it is often the case. There was honeymoon. Then came the trying times! Even before two years were over some of the founding MPs lost hope in the new project and started trekking back to their former party. Despite having been elevated to the high position of BMD Vice Presidency, Ntuane for various reasons didn’t feel at home. Some say he faced tough decisions about safe guarding his business interests which would not have been easy as a member of the opposition. And hence, he returned to the BDP in 2012.
His return to the ruling party was not welcomed by all. Most still saw him as a betrayer who could never be trusted. The electorates were more than insulted. After all the man they trusted with their precious vote was all over the place. When the time for primary elections came, he won on a technicality when his rival was suspended for election irregularities. This means that he didn’t have to spend a lot of time on primary election campaign. It also meant that he didn’t get the goodwill of his opponents’ voters who would have graciously supported him had he won an open contest. They felt cheated. His other biggest problem was that he had crossed over to BMD with many of his voters; yet on his return he came with a small fraction of them. Overnight a big opportunity had opened up at BMD where Ndaba Gaolathe not only replaced him as Vice President but settled in his constituency – former Gaborone West South and now Bonnington South. When General Elections came in October 2014, Gaolathe swept to victory taking all wards but one. Ntuane was rendered jobless with his party suffering its worst defeat ever. When some had thought the best thing to do was for him to take a well-deserved sabbatical, Ntuane immediately sprang to feet and campaigned to take over as chairman of Gaborone region. He won. And immediately his focus shifted to the whole country. His party was battered. He offered his name for the party Secretary General in the Central Committee elections that were set for 2015. He went beyond that and proposed wide reforms that were intended to reawaken the party and position it as the masses’ choice. When some campaigned on factional lines, most in the factions believed he would be the right candidate. And hence the party converged in Mmadinare – Ntuane’s birth place – he emerged among the new leaders that were entrusted with taking the party forward – laying the blocks to stop the decline of one of Africa’s longest ruling parties.
Distrust and exclusion
It was clear from early days of winning the Secretary General position that his working relationship with party chairman Mokgweetsi Masisi needed to improve. Rarely would they share the top table or occasions that party leadership was alarmed. While in recent months there has been reasonable thawing; to some it is just simply playing to the camera. The distrust between the two men is deep and chronic. As Masisi himself confirmed, his recruitment is such that his targets are usually kept so private that not even the Secretary General would know in advance those who will be unveiled. While this is reasonable and good to ensure that those targeted do not get conflicting messages, some would argue that the Secretary General as the CEO of the party deserves to be alerted on targets pursued and their expectations. The recent cabinet reshuffle and eventual increase of SEMPs has been seen as bearing a strong influence from Masisi as he prepares to take over the reins of the party and country. Though Ntuane brandished a reform agenda in his campaign, it will appear, none of that will see light of the day.
One ought to look at the power base of those in party leadership. There is a clear pattern. They draw their political power and legitimacy from their places of birth. President Ian Khama ascended to Parliament and Vice Presidency, thanks to an assured vote from members of his tribe. Masisi banks on his home village electorate in Moshupa, inheriting an assured voting block enjoyed by his father Edison for years. Ntuane originally comes from Nata where his father has been a councillor. But Ntuane – a cosmopolitan streetwise politician – only knows the country’s capital as his political base. And though he won the 2009 elections for Gaborone West South, the capital’s politics have predominantly been dominated by the opposition. This explains partly why he lost the 2014 poll to an opposition block – the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). And now with moves being made for Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to join UDC, it is going to be increasingly difficult for the ruling party to have any measure of presence in the capital city.
Bonnington South remains the starting point in his consideration to attempt to get back into Parliament. He lost the 2014 election to Gaolathe who based on his performance in Parliament is most likely to have consolidated his hold. The incumbent’s confidence and hold will further be boosted by the possible opposition combined voting block with the BCP being on the verge of joining UDC.
He will have to consider going back to his roots to fight for his political survival. Nata remains a higher possibility for the ruling party to win than the city constituencies in 2019. But first like all others Ntuane will have to fight it out in the primaries which includes taking on the incumbent member of his party.
Ntuane is well known in Francistown. He can pick any constituency there and stake his claim. However, Francistown as the second city is increasingly becoming anti-establishment and one would have to choose carefully the constituency to contest for.
This is the place where Ntuane spend most of his teen years, finishing high school at Selebi-Phikwe Senior Secondary School (SPSS) in 1989. He is well known in the area and friends he went to school with could easily turn up for his campaign in any of the two constituencies in the area. But it will not be that easy with opposition well entrenched in Phikwe West while Nonofo Molefhi has remained very strong in Phikwe East at least among BDP members.
This is the place of his birth; and where his mother originates. It is therefore given that he has strong roots in this place. The area’s proximity’s to Phikwe means that he has had a long connection to it and could easily raise foot soldiers to champion his campaign.
With a high possibility that he will be facing a strong opposition next year for Secretary General seat; it is given that a loss will put paid to his political future as with no clout, no easy constituency to claim there will be very few angels to rescue him. Whichever way one looks at it, Ntuane stands on the verge of a bleak political future. He will be forced to retreat into a new very unfamiliar and possibly boring world of academia or business to rehabilitate himself as he considers best options of re-launching his political career. After all once a politician always a politician!