With abundance of talent inside and outside the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) there is no justification why for two years or more Ndaba Gaolathe failed to manage differences in his party. The current disintegration points to serious leadership failure on his part. STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE argues.
Ndaba Gaolathe, who has disappeared from the public space since that violent stokvel in Bobonong two weeks ago, is the biggest culprit in the unfolding saga at the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). It is very difficult to absolve him from blame considering that as the president the buck stops with him, his biggest mistake being failure to work with a constitutionally elected NEC that unfortunately for him, was dominated by Modubule Mangole Mmatli (MMM) camp. Except for Ndaba and Wynter Mmolotsi, it has always been clear that most of the National Executive Committee (NEC) members are on MMM camp. This was the root cause of BMD problems since the Gantsi congress in 2015. Many in the movement objected vociferously to an early analysis of the BMD constitution by the media, which portrayed Ndaba as a lame duck president. Most significant were sentiments that he is a leader without powers as the constitution devolved such to party structures. That has since come to pass, crippling the BMD from the day a central committee made up of opposing camps was elected in Gantsi.
Fast forward to 2017
The debate on the BMD debacle has gone full circle to centre around the same subject; the Constitution, which Ndaba and his followers have either out of political naivety and inexperience tried to disregard and push to the back seat. Ahead of Bobonong Ndaba and his followers pounded their chests and vowed never to honour summons by kangaroo courts after MMM dominated NEC called him for disciplinary hearing. He was accused of participating in organising a youth league congress in Ramotswa outside the structures of the party and in violation of constitutional provisions. He was fired together with others, in absentia. Ndaba's only defence was that the MMM camp had themselves violated the constitution. Even more, it would appear that Ndaba believes that with a following of the masses in the BMD he does not need the constitution. His conviction was that as long as he had the backing of supporters he would get rid of the MMM faction without a hustle in Bobonong. It was not to be. Now things have come to a head because of the same Constitution through which Ndaba was ushered into the presidency.
By definition a constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is governed. Despite there being many rules or laws that pertain to a society, none of them can ever overrule the ones that are clearly stated in a constitution. Wise counsel proffered by President of Botswana National Front (BNF) – an alliance partner of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) – Duma Gideon Boko this week cautions against disrespect for the constitution. This was the second time Boko, in a space of two weeks, placed emphasis on adherence to a Constitution that has been approved by the people. But why is Boko harping on the Constitution when the Ndaba camp dismisses it as a piece of paper, and that the will of the people supersedes it? In a telling response Boko says: “We are in bondage of the law in order that we might be free. We cannot run away from it whether we like it or not.” Using himself and the BNF as an example, Boko goes further to warn that "comradeship is not friendship" and that leaders elected by the masses should work together regardless of their personal differences. This does not seem to have been the case in BMD NEC. Except for his calls for a united opposition, with a united BMD, Boko insists that the UDC is ready and willing to resolve the standoff but will only do so if any of the factions approach the parent organisation. So far the only confirmation is that UDC has received submissions together with National Executive Committees from the two BMD camps about outcomes of the Bobonong congress.
Already facing rebellion from within his own party, a meek Ndaba stepped into a lion's den totally unprepared for the opportunistic manoeuvres of seasoned political schemers he faced at the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). There is no indication that he ever received the much needed guidance from his more experienced comrades at UDC on how to kill the cancer within his movement. Hence the inconsequential and self-defeating threats he made against the MMM camp who were running the party parallel to his authority. As if that was not enough, all indications are that Ndaba fell in the perking order of authority when UDC started courting the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to bring them on board the coalition. Naturally the BNF was inclined to always favour a relationship with their former comrades – the BCP – who broke away in 1998, more than the BMD who were always treated with suspicion because of being new comers in opposition politics. The history of the BMD and the BDP did little to endear them and win confidence of the other tried and tested comrades of the struggle. Unknown to the masses, far away from the shenanigans playing out in the alliance, Ndaba cut a lonely figure at the top, isolated and side-lined from behind the scenes rendezvous that set the tone for negotiations. Hence, the elevation of Dumelang Saleshando from the positon of Secretary General of UDC to be at par with Ndaba in the vice presidency. The creation of two vice President positions under the umbrella brought Saleshando shoulder to shoulder with Ndaba, with an opportunity to be second in command should the UDC attain state power in 2019. This could explain why the UDC is steadfast in refusing to intervene to restore peace at BMD hiding behind constitutional provisions of the alliance in relation to individual partners. No wonder his relationship with Boko deteriorated upon the arrival of Saleshando since he felt pushed aside despite running a party with a commanding MPs majority within the UDC. And hence instead of UDC leadership having ensured that individual party leaders remained very comfortable in working with each other animosity was promoted between BCP and BMD as justification for Ndaba’s demotion remains wanting in all respects. He would not have been wrong to suspect that it was not only him who was being dealt a blow but his party as well as his rivals within the party appeared to be embraced far more than him. The UDC leadership which is now being called upon to intervene failed Ndaba when he needed them the most. It could not be a far-fetched conclusion that leaders have been more pre-occupied with positioning themselves for future leadership positions should the UDC win elections. Ndaba under the circumstances has been left to fight on his own.
Ndaba also mishandled Sidney Pilane's application for re-admission into the party, which deteriorated into a controversy that split the BMD into factions. As far back as 2015 Pilane's intention to challenge Ndaba for the presidency was a subject of speculation when he sought re-admission. Others even suggested that he was returning to spy on BMD after being linked to Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DIS) boss Isaac Kgosi. The latter accusation persists, with a fake intelligence report whose author is unknown recently circulated in the media to validate the claim. His association with Kgosi has fuelled speculation among Ndaba supporters that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is using him to destabilise BMD. In a letter written on May 12, 2015, where he claimed not to be seeking any position, Pilane also revealed that he had sought audience with Ndaba over the crisis caused by his application but was ignored. Apart from accusing Pilane of constituency shopping, the Ndaba camp has failed to explain why they do not want him in the party, or at least why they fault his application in Mochudi West in preference of his application being handled by 2017 congress – the supreme body of the party. Armed with powers bestowed on him by the constitution, which he cited in a warning letter to Modubule and Mangole while in Switzerland attending an Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, it boggles the mind why Ndaba never invoked such powers to bring order in the movement. He could only go as far as threatening Secretary General Gilbert Mangole and National chairman Nehemiah Modubule, following a fall-out at the National Executive Committee (NEC). He said the manner in which they carried themselves was divisive, their behaviour was inappropriate and unfair and they should revise their conduct “or the people will revise it for you.” A guarantor of fairness and unity, which Ndaba said he is, thrives on being decisive and firm. However, in this particular case he failed to take decisive action of at worst suspending Mangole, and Modubule as well as the newly admitted Pilane from the party. He had the ammunition and power to have pulled the trigger first – a move that would have long dealt with the other faction and effectively saved him from the disgrace of being the one who suffered the humiliation of suspension and ultimate expulsion from his party. Pilane’s first attempt to snatch BMD presidency was in 2011 when he was defeated by Gomolemo Motswaledi. He resurfaced after Motswaledi's death to identify, house and pay an independent pathologist to investigate the cause of death. It later emerged that Pilane sponsored a faction at the BMD Youth League and Women's League Congresses in 2015, the Gantsi congress.
It is common cause that the federation nursed and finally delivered a baby that came to be known as UDC – a national project responding to calls for "regime change" fuelled by BDP Government's refusal to accede to and/ or at the very least engage public servants over their demand for salary increase and better conditions of service. The decision was an add-on to the Thaba thula declaration. Although BOFEPUSU pioneered and sponsored the formation of UDC to drive regime change, such contribution does not extend to individual political parties that form the alliance. The federation cannot make any custodial claim to existence of the parties as they were formed of isolated circumstances, long before talk of regime change. But being the proponent and motivator of a united opposition – the only formation through which the possibility of regime change could be realised – it came as a shock when the federation openly aligned with the Ndaba faction and threatened violence on the other camp. Johnson Motshwarakgole erred at that infamous Letlhabile meeting, as attested to by the backlash that followed his threat to cause some to pass stools should they disrupt Ndaba's leadership. He spoke out of turn. Disappointedly but unsurprising his henchmen supported the position. Under normal circumstances BOFEPUSU should have, as Boko did, treaded carefully while devising strategies behind the scenes to broker peace. But it would appear Motshwarakgole (and the other Bofepusu leaders) have a soft spot for the soft spoken Ndaba, which clouded their judgment and blinded them to all tenements of fairness and equity. Long before they heard the MMM faction and sufficiently informed themselves of the dispute they had already concluded that Pilane is harassing their heaven sent blue-eyed boy. It is doubtful if they have any concrete evidence against MMM camp, that it is aligned to DIS/ BDP and is on a mission to derail the "regime change" mission.
For obvious reasons, there could be some validity to claims that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) machinery is on overdrive employing resources at their disposal to dismantle the UDC. The possibility of being deposed from power, which became abundantly clear in the 2014 general elections when the BDP fell to an all-time low of 47% popular vote, is more realistic than ever before. Originally BMD was formed by Barata Phathi faction members who left the BDP in support of Gomolemo Motswaledi, who had been expelled by President Ian Khama shortly after being elected Secretary General in Kanye. Motswaledi was the first leader of the movement before he died in a freak accident in 2014. As deputy, Ndaba was elevated to succeed him and later elected at the 2015 Gantsi congress. Fast forward to 2017, the dynamics have changed. While instability and factionalism is tearing the BMD apart, their biggest enemy at the BDP (Khama) is about to leave office in just eight months. Mokgweetsi Masisi, who will replace Khama as President of the BDP and Head of State in April 2018, openly admires Ndaba for his prowess in matters of economy and finance. Before he decamped to BMD where he gained prominence Ndaba, who holds two Bachelors’ Degrees in Economics and Mathematics, had been operating behind the scenes as the BDP think tank, strategist and policy advisor. He currently runs Delele – an international economics/ finance advisory firm based in Johannesburg, South Africa. For all intents and purposes the BDP is aware that the easiest way to infiltrate the coalition is through their former comrades, the BMD. Starting with Ndaba himself as the primary target, the BDP is oiling their machinery in readiness to pounce and salvage the spoils as their splinter party. The fallout creates a perfect fertile hunting ground while the change of guard in the ruling party is a tantalising carrot for disgruntled democrats who left in anger to return home as relationships thaw under the new Masisi’s dispensation.