Sidney Pilane's new found fame and celebrity status after his faction declared him president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under controversial circumstances could end up being short lived. The masses appear to reject him for holding their party at ransom, thereby defying the unfolding regime change agenda of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE argues
Without a doubt Sydney Pilane is a very ambitious man. The flamboyant legal hawk must have long harboured an ambition to wrestle the leadership of the BMD one way or the other, long before Bobonong. While opinion is divided on the character called Pilane and his sudden resurgence in opposition politics, one clear thing is that his ambition is bigger than previously imagined. For now, with pomp and a spring to his stride he taken over a movement – at least its name. Credit must be given to the man who made terminology rarely associated with local politics fashionable. Words like a thug, renegade, maspotis, war mongers are becoming part of the vocabulary. Mirrored against Pilane's conviction, even staunch religious believers pale into oblivion in comparison. His resolve and tenacity to execute that which he has set out to achieve has been immeasurable. Such is the character of a man who has won insurmountable legal battles for and against Government. To date many inside and outside the legal fraternity revere him and run to him when they reach a dead end. That notwithstanding Pilane is seen by those on the other side of the aisle as the man who singlehandedly polluted the opposition political environment and derailed plans for regime change, a promise that had made the UDC the darling to deliver a new Botswana. To date such plan remains deferred. After the chaos of Bobonong three weeks ago, Pilane's faction is yet to take full control of the BMD – a party he claims to lead and there is no indication that will happen anytime soon or ever. Even if he wins the constitutional argument and manage to wrestle the party from Ndaba Gaolathe, the reality on the ground is that he has few followers on his side. Pilane is not only different from Ndaba because of age, looks and physical appearances. Their talents, as has been demonstrated in the ongoing BMD fracas, differ significantly.
Against Pilane, his detractors and opponents alike frequently borrow the phrase "Vox populi, vox Dei" a Latin phrase first used by Alcuin – a highly regarded English scholar that means the voice of the people is the voice of God. Elsewhere the phrase is replicated as "A will of the people is the will of God". The masses, led by Ndaba, have stuck to this ammunition, arguing that Pilane cannot brandish a constitution his faction had mutilated over the years and claim to be their legitimate leader. For them the president of the BMD is and remains Ndaba Gaolathe. To support the point of disregarding the constitution argument, Ndaba's followers who have earned the name 'constitutional delinquents' argue that revolutions are not managed by any legal documents. It is about what the people want and revolutions are influenced by the masses, and usually rebellious. Pilane is a political veteran who has traversed the political space and its many challenges over many years. Although legally there is nothing wrong, it raises eyebrows for a man who defects from BDP to form BMD then resign after being defeated to its presidency only to make a quick return after a short while. This points to a power hungry character. The controversy surrounding the way Pilane sneaked back into the BMD fold remain a topical issue. To ordinary members his defence that he did not commit any offence by constituency shopping is not convincing. A legal guru that he is, Pilane exploited a loophole in party constitution/regulations by abandoning an application he had submitted at Gaborone North halfway and launching a fresh application in his home village Mochudi West. The MP for the latter constituency is Gilbert Mangole -Pilane's confidante who has confirmed benefiting financially from the relationship.
The biggest blow to Pilane's political ambitions could be his strategy, tact and approach. His cocky and confrontational demeanour presents an angry man who has very little respect for those he is dealing with, let alone his audience. While that may have contributed to his success in the courtroom, where he struck fear in witnesses, presiding officers and other counsel with legalese sophistry and arrogance it can never work in politics. It is therefore not surprising that while a sizeable number of BMD members secretly believe that his faction is right, at least on the interpretation of the constitution, they do not support him openly. While his opponents command massive following, support seems to be dwindling on his side. The only thing Pilane is clinging to is the constitution, hence the euphoria that engulfed his camp when they received a legal note from Ndaba's lawyers. He has ignored the proposal therein deliberately to stretch Ndaba camp to make the mistake of going to court where he will have a moment to shine. Being the architect of the same constitution, he will bury them hands down. Political pundits are in agreement that power belongs to the masses, and a leader armed with a constitution alone – but without a following – is only leading himself. Pilane's latest attack on the UDC leadership, accusing them of misusing funds donated by the public to finance a private investigation into the death of Motswaledi, raises eyebrows. Why is it only this week that the man who claims to have identified, paid for, housed and made full payment for a forensic pathologist is only talking about the report and the money now? Clearly this is an attempt to win public sympathy by denigrating his friends and opponents inside BMD, clubbing them together with comrades he hopes to work with under the umbrella. It is not possible that Pilane is not aware that at the time of Motswaledi's death Modubule, Mangole and Mmatli were still in the leadership of BMD, that he accuses of misusing funds donated by the public.
Pilane and BDP government
BMD members are uncomfortable with Pilane's close relationship with the BDP Government and have openly accused him of being an operative of the ruling party. Others extend the accusation alleging that his motive is to destroy opposition parties. Because of the BMD standoff already there are accusations and counter- accusations, flying thick and fast between and within members of the UDC alliance. Pilane has had a long working relationship with BDP Government. In 2006 he defended government in the high profile human rights lawsuit through which Basarwa were challenging their forceful removal from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), which attracted negative international publicity. He also defended government decision to stop the issuing of Special Game Licenses to the Basarwa while Gordon Bennett, argued that the decision goes against the letter and spirit of the Botswana constitution. He was later appointed special advisor to President Festus Mogae. But when his contract ended in 2009 President Ian Khama did not renew it. Soon Pilane had joined the opposition as a founding member of the BMD. Perhaps Pilane views the leadership of an opposition party ahead of 2019 as a great opportunity to revenge the betrayal he suffered at government enclave, and poke the middle finger upwards to taunt the BDP in defeat in 2019. In his legal work he has provided legal advice to the Director of Director of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) boss Isaac Kgosi – something that has cemented the mistrust that some members of the public harbour. Despite Pilane insisting rightly that he can offer legal advice to anyone as part of his work, some take this relationship to imply that gathers intelligence for DISS as well. Pilane provided legal advice to Kgosi at time when the opposition was celebrating that the man they accuse of eavesdropping on their private conversations will see his day in court over many allegations that he faced. That day is yet to come. It is this longstanding relationship with the BDP Government that BMD members view with suspicion.
Pilane's letter to BMD – 12 May 2015
The Botswana Movement for Democracy (“the BMD”) is in the throes of a dispute over the election of the Youth League Committee at the recent Congress. The manner in which the dispute is being handled borders on a crisis. I am told that my name has been mentioned during the ensuing quarrel. The allegation, as I understand it, is that the victorious Youth League Committee led by Phenyo Segokgo wishes me to return to the BMD to replace Hon. Ndaba Gaolatlhe as the President of the Movement. This allegation, it would seem, is being made to spirit Hon. Gaolatlhe into denouncing Segokgo’s Committee. And the tactic seems to be working, and is precipitating a crisis within the BMD. I write only to correct the record. I am not a member of the BMD, having resigned a few years ago, largely because the then Youth League Committee was forced to leave the BMD for the BDP on account of accusations that they supported me. I was never told in what, for we had just come from Kgale where I had been decisively defeated. In my letter of resignation, I expressed the hope that with me gone, the Movement would stop haemorrhaging in favour of the BDP, and that there would be no reason for anyone to be accused of supporting me. The accusations have returned. It would seem that some, by no means all, those who lost, for whatever reason, have found in me a ready scapegoat. Since I left the BMD, hardly a week has passed without my being approached with the request to return to the Movement. One BMD Member of Parliament said that members on the ground would be content if I returned to membership, and that I did not have to be active or to accept any position. Each time I told them that I had lost the appetite for party politics and would return only if a serious political crisis occurred in the country or within the Movement. Never has anyone invited me to return to replace either the late Gomolemo Motswaledi or Hon. Ndaba Gaolatlhe. The claim that Segokgo and his Committee wish to remove Hon. Gaolatlhe and replace him with me is nonsense. Before yesterday when I invited Segokgo to come and tell me what was going on, and how my name came into it, I had not seen Segokgo in over a year. AND LET US BE CLEAR! 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.