Bulela Ditswe 2017: Game on

SHARE   |   Monday, 16 January 2017   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Monageng and Morwaeng Monageng and Morwaeng

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members looking to contest Bulela Ditswe later in 2017 have returned to base to count their losses following highly charged campaigns disguised as support for merry-makers in different festivities around the country. While on the face of it many enjoyed well organised choir festivals, football tournaments, Christmas parties and New Year celebrations, oblivious of the sponsors and organisers, a closer look would have revealed that politicians featured prominently in the list. These cultural events provided good cover and opportunity for politicians to sell their story and canvass support ahead of the March vetting process for Bulela Ditswe applicants within Domkrag. But because of the restriction against campaigns before conclusion of vetting, none of the politicians is willing to openly declare interest. It is now game on! Democrats aspiring to contest the 2019 General Elections in opposition held constituencies are 'secretly' intensifying campaigns disguised as community projects, lobbying supporters in clandestine operations two months ahead of the vetting process. As the March/April vetting of candidates for Bulela Ditswe fast approaches, more candidates are emerging from the shadows to stake their claim while 'unauthorised' campaigns in some constituencies date as far back as 2016. Nineteen seats for parliamentary candidates will be up for grabs in October when the BDP conducts primary elections in constituencies currently held by opposition parties.

In recognition of the divisive effect of primary elections, the BDP resolved at a special congress last year that primary elections for the 19 constituencies be held in 2017 to allow for time to heal and address grievances from losers well ahead of 2019. Opposition parties, which have now entered into a coalition to be known as the Umbrella for Democratic Change plus (UDC+), won 20 parliamentary seats before the Okavango MP Bagalatia Arone of the Botswana Congress party (BCP) defected to the BDP, receiving a total 348 111 votes against the BDP's 320 647. An unprecedented 29 independent candidates - largely made up of disgruntled losers of Bulela Ditswe 2013 - contested parliamentary seats in the 2014 general elections. Although none of them won, they collectively received 21 484 votes, which in some constituencies was the deciding factor between winners and losers. In local government elections the opposition garnered a total 333 092 votes compared to the BDP's 312 550 votes, with 36 004 votes going to independent candidates. In terms of popular vote the BDP dropped to 46.45% while UDC jumped to 30.01%, BCP 20.43% and 3.11% being independent candidates. All these factors combined, which point to a party on the decline and growing threat of a united opposition, have forced the BDP to device strategies to reverse their fortunes. These include a decision to intensify the recruitment drive and holding early primary elections in constituencies where members do not agree on a consensus candidate.


Consensus candidates

Another strategy adopted by the party is to field consensus candidates to avoid the divisions caused by primary elections. However, the strategy often criticised as a hindrance and stifling inner party democracy by killing open contest, has failed to take traction in party structures. A good example is the protracted consultations in Tlokweng constituency where the party has failed to name a candidate for the looming by-election long after the area MP passed away on November 28, 2016. The delay is caused by deep seated divisions in the party. So far, only Gaborone North constituency has agreed on a consensus candidate – former party Secretary General Mpho Balopi – who will lock horns with the incumbent Haskins Nkaigwa of UDC+.

Bulela Ditswe 2017

Below we sample constituencies where heavy contest is already underway.

Molepolole South: By far the busiest behind the scenes activity has been here. The candidates; businessman Shima Monageng – perennial loser to deposed former BDP strongman Daniel Kwelagobe will face Kabo Morwaeng, the BDP political prodigal son who does not see eye to eye with Kwelagobe. Both candidates are in agreement that Kwelagobe has been holding them back, but is now a relic best located in the archives of the once mighty Domkrag. Kwelagobe was Molepolole MP for 44 years. Many inside and outside the BDP have suffered at the hands of DK for over four decades when he commanded respect and a huge following until Khama diffused the bubble and reduced him to an ordinary member. Since early last year Morwaeng - Secretary in the Political Education and Elections Committee (PEEC) –has donated a vehicle and equipment to the branch office to be used in the constituency. He has also sponsored football tournaments and choir competitions in the constituency through The Good Samaritan foundation. Although he denies that he has started campaigning Monageng, who lost to Kwelagobe by 200 votes in 2013, confirms that he has ambitions to represent the party in 2019. DK defeated him for 10 years since 2003. "I will apply for vetting and launch my campaign thereafter if I am successful," he said.  On 3rd January Monageng sponsored a hugely successful choir festival at Ramakgatlanyana lands between Thamaga and Molepolole. Area MP, UDC+'s Dr Tlamelo Mmatli, has already declared his candidacy in 2019. As part of his response to the State of the Nation Address 2016 Dr Mmatli warned Masisi to desist from spreading defamatory lies about him after the latter hinted that the MP could defect to the ruling party.

Molepolole North: Several party activists are said to have shown interest in contesting to represent BDP against Mohammed Khan of the UDC+. Former councillor Bashi Kgakge will slug it out with his uncle Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri although the latter has remained cagey about his candidacy, citing the vetting process. Matlhabaphiri, who will turn 70 in 2019 was walloped by Khan in 2014 with a margin of 2 864 votes. He is the Chairman of the Political Education and Elections Committee. Another candidate is former CEDA Executive Oabile Regoeng, currently Deputy Treasurer in Kweneng Region Committee, who has the support of some councillors and has made numerous donations and undertaken some projects in some schools in Molepolole north.

Francistown South: Former Francistown South MP Khumongwana Maoto and specially elected councilors in the City of Francistown Zazambi Tuelo and Andy Boatile are the frontrunners. Though the ruling party is yet to vet aspiring candidates Maoto, Boatile and Tuelo are already jostling for the opportunity to represent the ruling BDP in 2019. The trio could not be drawn into discussing their interest. While aspiring candidates at the BDP are canvassing support behind the scenes and luring Francistown South residents to their side, Mmolotsi is not taking the development for granted. He is busy strategising on how best to defend his incumbency. Buoyed by the Botswana Congress Party's (BCP) decision to join the UDC, Mmolotsi is unfazed. “I am well prepared to face anyone in 2019. It is not going to be an easy one. But there is no way BDP will wrestle the constituency from the opposition. BDP has presided over the collapse of the economy much to the chagrin of many Batswana,” he said, adding that he is going to ride on the disgruntlement of many civil servants in his constituency.

Gaborone Bonnington North: After the humiliation by UDC+ President Duma Boko in 2014, with a margin of over 5 000 votes long time BCP candidate for the constituency, Annah Motlhagodi, who recently defected to join her husband at BDP is expected to try her luck once again at her new political home. She will mostly likely face former MP Robert Masitara whose losing margin stood at 3, 472 votes against Boko. Notwithstanding Article 3 of Vetting Guidelines, which dictates that an applicant for Bulela Ditswe must not have been a member of the opposition in the past 24 months, the party is expected to give new recruits a waiver to contest.  It is expected that Article 4 will also be waived for applicants who contested 2014 elections as independent candidates in protest of the outcome of 2013 Bulela Ditswe, before rejoining the party.

Gaborone Central: Although many anticipated that Gaborone region chairman and former NYEC chairman, Bontsi Monare, would throw his hat in the mix and challenge area MP Dr Phenyo Butale it may never happen. Sources close to Monare said he is not interested, as shown by his declining activism in recent years. His main focus has been on business interests. Only the name of Tebatso Lekalake is currently bandied about as a potential candidate. 

Other constituencies that will hold Bulela Ditswe in 2017 are;

Goodhope-Mabule: Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II. Cabinet Minister Eric Molale will square off against former NYEC chairman Kenny Fankie Motsaathebe
Gaborone Bonnington South: Ndaba Gaolathe
Selibe Phikwe West: Dithapelo Keorapetse
Gabane-Mmankgodi: Major General (Rt) Pius Mokgware
Maun West: Kgosi Tawana
Gantsi North: Noah Salakae
Mochudi East:  Isaac Davids
Mochudi West: Gilbert Mangole
Ramotswa: Samuel Rantuana
Mogoditshane: Sedirwa Kgoroba
Kanye South: Abram Kesupile
Jwaneng-Mabutsane: Shawn Nthaile

Masisi campaign
The popularity of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) against the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change plus (UDC+) will be tested on Saturday (January 21) in two by-elections in Palapye's Boikago-Madiba ward and Tsabong North. Even more importantly the by-elections present an opportunity to gauge the impact of an intensive campaign by Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, and test unity in the BDP ahead of a grueling internal contest for Bulela Ditswe 2017. For the first time the UDC+ will also put their newly solemnised marriage – scheduled for public announcement next week on January 23 – to test, in a new shape and form.
While democrats are at each other's jocular, behind the scenes party chairman, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been the busiest man at Government Enclave lately, crisscrossing the country to assess damage caused by recent floods as well as leading the BDP campaign in different constituencies. Although Masisi was upon elevation to VP assigned to oversee project implementation he has transformed into his party's campaign manager, recruiting new members across the country. His campaign has been boosted immensely by the abundant state resources at his disposal, among them helicopters, off road 4x4 vehicles and unparalleled coverage on state media.
During the week Masisi told Tsabong residents, where a by-election will be held on Saturday that: "We have completed planning and we will be constructing a P52 million multi-species abattoir that will slaughter 350 animals a day here in Tsabong, creating many jobs for the local youth". In the same week Assistant Minister Biggie Butale revealed that his government will splash P10 million in each of the 57 constituencies for residents to undertake projects of their choice.