A general definition of a Constitution is "a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is governed. These rules together make up what the entity is". The bruising factional wars at Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) can be summed up as a battle between Constitutionalism and the aspirations of the masses. Celebrated at inception as one of the most liberal constitutions, because it devolves power to party structures, the BMD constitution has become the centre of deep seated divisions threatening to tear the movement apart. Although nobody contests the contents of the BMD Constitution, it is becoming abundantly clear that constitutionalists who dominate the so-called Modubule/Mangole faction have lost touch with the general membership that is sympathetic to the Gaolathe/Mmolotsi side. The Constitutionalists miscalculated and misread the political mood in the BMD under the false believe that they can invoke provisions in their favour to take control and spread influence in the party. Armed with the document, the Modubule/ Mangole laid the final straw when they recently fell into the trap of their antagonists and suspended the party president Ndaba Gaolathe, his deputy Wynter Mmolotsi, Former BMD Youth League President Phenyo Segokgo who is also South East District Council (SEDC) Chairman and four others were recently suspended from the party.
Time running out
Time is running out for the Modubule/Mangole faction. As Bobonong draws near the biggest casualties in the ongoing tussle are going to be MP for Mochudi West Gilbert Mangole and MP for Molepolole South, Dr Tlamelo Mmatli. The duo is between a rock and a hard place with growing calls for removal, as the July Congress fast approaches. Already campaign is gaining ground within Mmatli's constituency to find a replacement ahead of 2019 general elections, posing a danger for his ambitions for a second term in Parliament. His biggest crime is allowing himself to be dragged into factional wars between Gaolathe and Mmolotsi against Chairman Nehemiah Modubule and Secretary General, Mangole. Dr Mmatli is a member of the BMD National Executive Committee (NEC) and BMD Working Committee in his capacity as national policy director. He was retained in the position at the 2015 national congress in Gantsi. The Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction has thrown the gauntlet at their detractors, pulling a surprise move by calling BMD members to a meeting dubbed "The Gathering of Bakaulengwe" at Letlhabile English Medium School last Sunday. The meeting turned into a bashing of the Modubule/Mangole faction, which Mmatli is aligned and sympathetic to. With each passing day, it is becoming clear that political battles cannot be won using legal instruments against the will of the masses. Perhaps sensing the danger, Mmatli has lately heightened calls for reconciliation amongst BMD members’ especially party leadership. But it is common knowledge that numerous attempts at reconciling warring parties have failed when Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction spurned mediation in preference of a special congress where the masses will settle the matter once and for all. The Modubule/Mangole did not support the idea of a special congress leading to a protracted standoff until the suspensions.
Posting on Facebook last week Dr Mmatli wrote: “Bakaulengwe, it is not too late to reconcile and work things out between us. Our movement (BMD) needs us all, and we are stronger together. Our differences are neither ideological nor are they policy related. The party is ripped apart thanks to ego-centricism amongst its top leadership. We must not allow egos to divide our beautiful movement. I am not saying this out of feelings of weakness, to the contrary I feel stronger saying this and thinking this way. For the record, some of us have tried in vain to find peaceful ways of resolving the impasse between us leadership. Peace is desirable and achievable”. But such gesture may be too little too late, the die is cast and the masses dismiss this as an attempt at self-preservation as D-Day looms. Dr Mmatli will have to dig deep in his reserves to survive Bobonong after surviving on the edge since he was fingered for interfering in campaigns for positions ahead of May 01, 2015 youth wing congress. Later, during a tour by Gaolathe in Molepolole in June 2016, Kweneng Regional Committee warned Dr Mmatli to refrain from aligning himself with the Modubule/Mangole faction, which they accused of disrespecting the party president. By the end of last year Mmatli was back in the news parrying allegations that he was about to defect to the BDP. He accused his detractors in Molepolole South of trying to tarnish his image and sow seeds of discord in the constituency. Although he confirmed being recruited by some BDP operatives, he denied any interest in retracing his steps to a party he left to form the BMD in 2010. His detractors say ever since he was elected in Gantsi two years ago there has never been a policy assembly to review the constitution.
For his part Mangole, concedes that the volatile situation in the party is getting worse. However, he argues that all is not lost because the suspended seven still have to face disciplinary process which will be concluded before July congress. But it is not clear what will happen should Gaolathe/Mmolotsi ignore the hearings. Mangole vehemently opposes suggestions that him, and Modubule suspended seven of their comrades. Arguing that he does not have powers to suspend anybody, he said the decision was taken by the National Working Committee, which draws powers to suspend any member from the party constitution. Mangole says positions held by those suspended do not render them immune from the dictates of the constitution. The NWC consists of nine voting members who form an executive committee with powers for day to day running of the party office before NEC meets. Explaining the suspensions, Mangole says NWC had endorsed the postponement of the youth congress which was scheduled for April in Ramotswa after the youth executive committee sought the intervention of the mother body because their preparations were not complete. There were no voters’ rolls, electoral board not appointed, ballot papers not ready, he said. Disregarding the postponement, the seven suspended members who are part of NWC -pushed for and participated at "the unlawful meeting purported to be a youth wing congress in Ramotswa". Mangole says that action was the culmination of many other instances of defiance where the constitution was violated and trampled upon by some in the leadership. Although he confirms that they approached some within UDC partners, the clergy and elders in society for mediation. They were disappointed when those calling for a special congress refused mediate and reconciliation. Gaolathe’s faction was not interested in reconciliation. The now suspended members refused efforts at mediation. "We had reached out to comrades. We were hoping that we will meet to resolve differences". They wanted a special congress, which Modubule/Mangole still claims they never resisted. Mangole is adamant that the special congress failed because those suggesting it violated the constitution as all the 19 letters from the branches were unlawful. "No, I did not want the special congresses because I do not believe it could resolve the differences. It was going to worsen the divisions," says Mangole.
Reliance on the Constitution by the Modubule/Mangole faction is losing steam as members are questioning why it is used selectively. Examples are being given that although it was used to block the special congress, no action was ever taken against those taken against those alleged to have insulted party leadership. Some suggest that a constitution cannot be used to hold the party at ransom as it can be repealed and amended on the floor of congress. As the infighting inside the BMD, who have been allocated 14 constituencies during the solemnising of the marriage with other Umbrella partners, deteriorates into an all-out war that has dragged in the general membership, UDC partners have steered clear of the controversy with a one line response. Let the BMD leadership resolve their differences at party level. The UDC partners are Botswana National Front (BNF) allocated 22 constituencies, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) with 17 and BPP (4) constituencies. The UDC is treading cautiously is to extinguish discontent and grievances gaining ground at the BPP, who are unhappy with the four constituencies as they want more.