Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi's ambitions to wrestle the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidency from incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi at next year's Special Congress got off to a faulty start when on Thursday, just two days after she made the surprise announcement, the party Central Committee, Youth and Women's Wings rejected her candidacy.
Addressing the media on Thursday afternoon, BDP National Youth Executive Committee Chairman, Simon Moabi and BDP Women's Wing Chairperson Dorcas Makgato, said their constituents have already resolved to rally behind Masisi and will not change their position at this stage. Moabi revealed that they took the resolution to support Masisi during their congress in Tsabong.
"Even now we have not changed our stance. We will support him at next year' special congress," he said.
For her part, the Women Wing chairperson said as women they endorse Masisi as party President for the next 10 years uninterrupted. "We took a resolution at our congress and we will not make a U-turn now. We know there is a new candidate who is also a woman but BDP members took a resolution at a General Council in Mogoditshane to support President Masisi," said Makgato.
The Women's Wing Congress comprises of all female MPs and councillors, and branches from all the party regions around the country. Their fourth resolution as women is to propose to the party leadership to consider postponing the 2019 elective congress as it is already causing divisions within the party. Makgato further revealed that the Women's Wing is deeply concerned about growing indiscipline among BDP members, especially the disregard for protocol and processes on social media platforms.
The two Wings represent strategic constituencies within the BDP that can influence the outcome of the votes to either candidate in an election.
Taking the cue from the assurance for support, BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi said the Central Committee agrees with both youth and women's wing that elective congresses held during a general elections year cause disruptions.
"We are going to have a special congress to elect the party president. Whether there will be elections will depend on the traditions of the party," he said, further revealing that the Central Committee has already taken a resolution to support Masisi at the special congress. The national Council, which is normally held in March, will determine whether the party will hold an elective congress or not.
According to Balopi, a hastily convened Central Committee meeting on Wednesday night had also endorsed Masisi's decision to immediately fire Venson-Moitoi from her ministerial portfolio of Local Government and Rural Development.
"As Central Committee we have agreed with the two wings but the National Council will make the determination. The decision of the Council will be determined based on decisions taken by the Women and Youth Wings who have called for the postponement of the elective congress," he said.
To demonstrate his ability to make firm decisions and restore sanity within the troubled BDP ranks President Mokgweetsi Masisi moved very fast and fired Venson-Moitoi from his cabinet, within 24 hours after she made the public announcement.
The announcement by Venson-Moitoi marks a break away from entrenched BDP tradition and has once again exposed President Masisi's vulnerability. He becomes the first sitting BDP President to be challenged at a Special Congress by his colleagues, let alone by a minister in his cabinet.
Venson-Moitoi's announcement has brought into sharp focus the political battles within the BDP, with sources suggesting that she has accepted the invitation to lead the New Jerusalem faction that has been operating in the shadows, by taking on Masisi.
Venson-Moitoi is said to have roped in former President Ian Khama to lead her campaign which is expected to go full steam soon. Although the decision by Venson-Moitoi to challenge Masisi has shocked many democrats, sources close to the inner politics of NJ said she was nominated at their first Palapye meeting in August this year.
The Palapye meeting, which has been regarded as the turning point in the BDP politics, was mostly attended by MPs from the Central District as well former President Khama. “She wanted to be given more time to consult and just recently the faction received some financial boost for their campaign,” revealed a member of NJ inner circle.
Initially Venson-Moitoi distanced herself from the faction insisting that she was retiring from active politics to run her consultancy business. Immediately after her surprise announcement Venson-Moitoi re-activated her Facebook page which she used when campaigning for the African Union chairperson, which she lost and started putting up veiled posts about Masisi's administration.
On the other hand, Masisi’s team has allegedly retreated to strategise and will spend a better part of the holidays oiling their campaign machine against the New Jerusalem. Divisions within the BDP came to the fore soon after Masisi took over as the fifth President of the country when his predecessor, Ian Khama, refused to relinquish power.
Against Masisi, Venson-Moitoi will face a man who has never had it easy in his meteoric rise to the presidency, safe for state presidency which he earned through Automatic Succession after toiling and grovelling for Khama. When he contested the BDP chairmanship at the Mmadinare congress in 2015, he triumphed against five opponents, a record number of challengers. He repeated the same feat again in Tonota two years later.
Ahead of the 2014 General Elections, he defied tough opposition from Botswana Federation of Public and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) who listed him as enemy Number One in their infamous Hit List.
His opponent, on the other hand, has been a perennial loser in her attempt to win party positions. In 2014 Moitoi was defeated in the contest for party chairperson by Samson Guma at a congress held in Maun. Interestingly, during the Maun Elective Congress, her now campaign manager (Khama) supported the Guma camp which had Balopi as Secretary General.