Guma's headache: 2018 Bulela Ditswe

SHARE   |   Monday, 22 January 2018   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Guma's headache: 2018 Bulela Ditswe

Samson Moyo Guma, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party member of the central committee (MCC) for Kweneng region, will heave a sigh of relieve when the curtain falls on the first batch of Bulela Ditswe in opposition held constituencies. But such celebration is not guaranteed given the rivalry between aspiring candidates in the two Molepolole constituencies ahead of the Saturday polls, where democrats elected representatives to contest the national elections in 2019. By far the busiest man in the build up to the primary elections, crisscrossing the constituencies to quell internal fires between opposing camps, Guma's biggest task may have just began. He has his job cut out. Both Molepolole North and South constituencies featured aspiring parliamentary candidates who are members of the BDP Political Education and Elections Committee, a coincidence which did not sit well with their opponents. Democrats from opposing camps feared that the duo could abuse their membership of PEEC to advance their campaigns to the detriment of their challengers. In Molepolole North the chairman of PEEC, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, was fighting to make a comeback against Botsalo Moroba Rabogadi and former CEDA Executive Oarabile Regoeng. Further supporting such fears was the termination of employment of a Tsholetsa house employee suspected to have colluded with one of the candidates in the constituency to manipulate members' registration ahead of yesterday's polls. The MCC had been instructed to intervene before the scandal was reported to the central committee. Across the road in Molepolole South, prodigal son of the BDP who is Secretary of PEEC Kabo Morwaeng faced long-term trialist Shima Monageng. The constituency has been a boiling pot characterised by one controversy after another ever since the duo openly declared interest in representing Domkrag in 2019.

At one point Guma was called to reprimand the branch secretary on allegations that the latter was campaigning for Morwaeng but the complaint was dismissed by party President Ian Khama at a meeting in Takatokwane. Perhaps in retaliation, the branch secretary reported Monageng to PEEC (of which Morwaeng is a member) accusing him of sending campaign text messages to canvas support from democrats in the constituency. The use of SMS for campaigns for Bulela Ditswe had been barred by the Central Committee, a decision which infuriated some candidates who were hoping to exploit the cell-phone technology to reach a large number of voters. "I was only informing members that cards will be ready for collection at primary schools in the constituency, which was in no-way a campaign for my candidacy. I was just advancing the BDP course, being a member in good standing," Monageng retorted when quizzed on Friday. In addition to complaints about blocking the use of cellphone messages ahead of Bulela Ditswe, some candidates also had grievances over the timing of the elections. They complained that January is just the end of the festive season and in the middle of a ploughing season when voters may still be occupied with preparing for the rains. Therefore, they may not turn up to vote in large numbers. They also complained that there are too many corrections in the final voters roll which was used on Saturday. Asked to shed a light on his campaign and the acrimonious relationship between him and the Monageng camp, Morwaeng declined. "During Bulela Ditswe candidates are not allowed to grant media interviews and publicise their campaigns as the elections are internal. Therefore, I cannot respond to your questions as that would amount to violation of party rules," said Morwaeng late Friday. 

No compromise
Guma's region makes some of the numerous constituencies who ignored suggestions by Khama to agree on a compromise candidate. Therefore, even after Bulela ditswe he will be charged with the responsibility of thawing strained relations and oversee a healing process in good time ahead of 2019. Without doubt a mammoth task! Winners of the weekend polls will face opposition candidates in national polls next year. Monageng confirms that the two candidates met twice but could not agree to compromise. He does not regret the decision. He is adamant that any democrat in good standing should exercise their right to contest internal elections without hindrance if they so wish. Just hours before the votes came in he was confident that he had canvassed a sizeable support in the 14 years (since 2003) that he has been contesting the primaries in Molepolole. After so much beating (2003, 2008 and 2013) and with age taking its toll, Monageng says he is looking to take one last shot at sitting in the august house. His trump card was loyalty to the party despite repeated thrashing by Daniel Kwelagobe – an enigma known within BDP circles as DK.  "I am looking towards retirement from active politics. It was a mistake that Molepolole South went to the opposition in 2014; it was mainly caused by protest voters. It is winnable post primaries but it will depend on who represents the party in 2019," he said. Although he declined to field questions about his candidacy, Morwaeng, who has deployed immense resources within the constituency, often brags about having launched a massive campaign with numerous teams. Beyond hosting football tournaments and donating to schools under a charitable fund known as The Good Samaritan, he has in the recent past become a prominent feature at social gatherings in Molepolole South representing the BDP. Although he steered clear of openly asking for votes at such gatherings, choosing rather to promote the BDP, it is evident that he was aware that such appearances did the trick. 

DK factor
Kwelagobe still commands a good following particularly in Molepolole – a constituency he represented for 44 years in Parliament. Ahead of Saturday, DK had openly thrown his weight behind Monageng in Bulela Ditswe, a man who tried unsuccessfully to dislodge him in three primaries. Still unhappy with the 2014 loss to opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change's Dr Tlamelo Mmatli, Monageng insists that whoever decided to vote DK out through a protest vote was wrong. The constituency was winnable for BDP, he said. But could those protest votes punish Monageng for associating with DK, whom democrats rejected in 2014? "Not necessarily, DK is not contesting Bulela Ditswe. Even at the 2014 polls DK enjoyed and still has a sizeable following which cannot be disregarded. He was defeated by a margin of about 300. He has the ability to sway voters. For 27 years he was leading the party as its Secretary General and Chairman," said Monageng, adding that the good thing about the protest is that disgruntled members never left BDP, and they cannot repeat the same against a candidate who is not DK. Kwelagobe and Morwaeng are sworn political enemies. Their animosity dates back to the days when DK had a huge influence in Domkrag and wielded power as party Secretary General when Morwaeng's win in Thamaga (then Kweneng South constituency) was set aside. Morwaeng, then unhappy with being replaced by Gladys Kokorwe, found himself in political wilderness after defecting to the opposition where he never had much luck. Now the prodigal son is back to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his after an unsuccesful span in opposition politics that took him to no less than three political parties. 

Civil servants
Monageng expressed concern about the rationale behind the BDP pursuing a court case which led to a recent judgment barring civil servants from voting in Bulela Ditswe. He said that development is confusing and could backfire on the BDP. It could be misconstrued to mean if we (BDP) do not need civil servants at primary elections then we do not need them even at national elections, he opined. This could push civil servants to vote with the opposition because we blocked them in primaries, he said.  "Any member in good standing should enjoy rights available to all members of the party. I honestly do not believe participating in a secret ballot in Bulela Ditswe amounts to political activism. The BDP should appease civil servants and avoid straining relations which could manifest into protest votes," he said.

The candidates
Even as democrats voted on Saturday a number of issues were still pending before the MCC who was sent to Molepolole to quell fires between the camps. Although Monageng believes that differences between him and Morwaeng can be resolved, he is quick to point out that he would be lying to suggest say their relationship is cordial.  He however is confident that their followers do not necessarily differ because they are all democrats, and therefore whoever wins should be assured of support from the other camp in the best interest of the party. "We should employ clean campaigns ahead of tomorrow," he said on Friday. Above everything else Monageng believed he was going to sail through because of demonstrable loyalty to the BDP. The former chairman of Molepolole/Lentsweletau MAA said he has a track record of developments in Molepolole South, notably as Chairman of Bakwena Community Development Association Trust – developers of the landmark P50 million Mafenyatlala mall. He claims to have rescued BCDA assets from being sold for a song when he joined the then Kweneng Rural Development Association (KRDA) in 2002. At the time, the then Mafenyatlala hotel, sitting on a 11 hectare plot had been sold for a measly P800, 000. Monageng says he will not be seeking re-election to BCDA at an elective AGM in the first quarter of 2018.