Warns Saleshando as he attacks opposition MPs for failing to debate budget speech
• Says BDP will turn them into political buffoons
• Will seek re-election to repair BCP
• Attacks BDP for collapsed education system
• Wants Khama to acknowledge crisis in education
Dumelang Saleshando opens up about his unexpected loss and poor performance of his party (BCP) in last year’s General Elections and promises that they will bounce back. He is seeking re-election as party leader. PHILLIMON MMESO reports.
He is one of the most celebrated politicians in Botswana and was the youngest to lead a political party to the General Elections in 2009. His party, Botswana Congress Party (BCP), performed extremely well in those elections.
When Dumelang Saleshando - a political heavyweight who saw his past political success tumbled down in 2014 when he lost elections in Gaborone Central constituency - many political pundits wrote his political obituary. But the man is still standing tall.
In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday, Saleshando with his tall and imposing figure - opens up about the burning issue of opposition cooperation which some say is the one that claimed his scalp at the polls in October last year.
Many have wondered about how he felt upon the announcement of results; that he lost and his party performed dismally.
“You know it is never an easy moment and some of my close friends advised me to resign from politics and concentrate on my businesses which I flatly refused,” said Saleshando this week, anxiously biting his low lips with his eyes fixed in the air as if looking for a better answer. He admitted that he has never been in that kind of situation in his whole political career but feels maybe it was for the best, “after all who am I to think I am a special breed?” he said rhetorically.
The father of three, Saleshando revealed that it was not easy even for his family, “I had to talk to my sons about the loss and prepare them for what their schoolmates will say to them.”
When the 2013 Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) came out and results were very poor, Saleshando called on the then Minister of Education and Skills Development, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, to resign as she had failed the nation. Put to him why he didn’t resign as he has also failed the BCP, this was his response:
“My term as party president was supposed to elapse in 2016 but at the Selebi-Phikwe elective congress I proposed that we amend the constitution to allow for elective congress after the general elections, and I must also be subjected to the same process. I cannot run away, the people have to make a choice at the congress.” He is not about to chicken out at the weakest moment of his party.
The 42-year-old University of Botswana graduate confirmed that he is going to stand for presidential elections of BCP at the congress as he feels he has a lot to offer to the party.
What really went wrong for BCP in 2014 general elections?
According to him, 2014 General Elections were about political propaganda and his party was its worst causality. He acknowledged that as a party they failed to counter some allegations said about their party thinking that it will die away.
“We made a mistake to undermine the power of political propaganda because lies if told many times ultimately some people will take that to be the truth,” he said.
He said that they focused their campaigns on positive messages, articulating their policies and thought people were more interested in the propaganda that was spread around than what they said.
“The ultimate trophy for Umbrella Democratic Change (UDC) was Gaborone Central and with the help of public sector unions they managed to dethrone me,” he said, taking a deep breath.
But will they also embark on propaganda to counter their political nemesis? “It is not the terrain we will jump into as BCP.”
The media was not spared by the BCP leader, noting that they also played a critical role in tarnishing the BCP name and that propaganda is still going on.
“Right now they have been news stories that we are losing a lot of members to UDC but then when you go to the press briefing where the said members are welcomed only one or two are paraded,” he said as he shook his head.
The eldest child in the family of five said that there is a ploy to portray BCP as a collapsing party, but insisted that they are now ready to show people that it is not true.
Saleshando maintained that they did not put a disastrous performance as some political pundits want to put as their popular vote was at 20% better than most opposition parties in Africa.
Now what is the way forward for BCP?
Currently members of the national executive are touring different constituencies and regions to get their views regarding the way forward and about opposition cooperation, revealed Saleshando. He said that they want to know from their members what worked and didn’t work for them in the 2014 elections as part of their preparations for their elective congress in July.
“We will put all the options on the table and evaluate them,” said the son to former BCP president Gilson Saleshando. He said that the evaluation will show them how they lost in some constituencies as not all of them were due to propaganda but other factors they know.
On the opposition MPs performance in parley
Recently for the first time in history most opposition MPs failed to respond to the 2015/16 budget speech, the first one after the general elections, and not a single BCP MP gave the party’s alternative budget. Saleshando blames this on poor organisation by the opposition members of parliament.
“When I was the leader of opposition I used to call all opposition legislators and we will plan how we are going to respond to the budget speech and it worked very well for us,” he said, refusing to blame the current LOO Duma Boko.
He said that everyone has their way of doing things but was quick to say that this was an embarrassment on all opposition MPs as only three responded to the budget speech.
“It is an indictment on the opposition. It simply means the entire opposition cannot match the budget debate and don’t have an agenda for the economy,” he said.
There have been a lot of expectations on the current opposition legislators as they are almost equal in number to BDP back benchers but failed to live to the expectations, he said.
He said the key responsibility of the opposition is to articulate the alternative and note that it is unfortunate that 20 seats have failed to sustain the budget debate for three days.
Saleshando cautioned that should they fail to live to the expectations, people will start to lose hope in them, noting that six months is enough for people to form a judgment against them. He advised the opposition that they must have a plan for the BDP as the party can play tricks on them and make them look like political buffoons.
But what is he doing to empower three BCP MPs in parliament?
“We have a parliamentary support committee that normally meet with our MPs and advise them accordingly on how they can structure their questions and motions,” he said.
As they are now minority in parliament, Saleshando revealed that they are reflecting on extra parliamentary agenda and added that they performed better outside parliament, especially when they had only one MP in the National Assembly.
Reflections on the PSLE, JCE and BGCSE results
This is one of the areas that BCP was passionate about ahead of the 2014 general elections and called on the introduction of the mother tongue.
He started to become lively, pushed his seat close to the table, looked at his smart phone as if checking time, it was now as if it was the moment he was waiting for, to talk about the state of education in Botswana.
“Our education system has totally collapsed and the country does not have any vision on how to resurrect it,” said Bachelor of Social Sciences graduate in political science and economics.
Put to him that there is the 1994 Revised Policy on Education otherwise known as Kedikilwe Education policy, he shook his head, “How can we rely on a policy that is 20 years old while issues affecting teaching have changed?” he asked rhetorically.
He said the country needs to introspect and see how it can turn around the education system.
“Most parents are now enrolling their children in private schools and some go to the extent of selling their houses to ensure that their children receive quality education,” said the BCP president.
In the current budget the Ministry of Education and Skills Development has received the lion’s share of over P1 billion and Saleshando believes that cannot solve a problem by throwing money at it.
Government must introduce pre-primary education and make it compulsory and the language issue needs to be addressed because Vision 2016 talks about teaching children in their mother tongue, said Saleshando.
His main worry is that President Khama does not see any crisis in education.
“I once had a meeting with him and informed him that he must focus on education as it is near collapse, to my utter shock, he told me there is nothing wrong with the education system. I then realised that we are faced we a serious problem,” he said noting that political will is needed to turn education around.
Did you know?
Saleshando didn’t vote in Gaborone Central where he stood as parliamentary candidate and defended his seat which he occupied prior to 2014 elections but in Gaborone North as he is a resident of Phakalane estate, a leafy estate on the outskirts of Gaborone.
Asked how he views the performance of his MP Haskins Nkaigwa, he smiles and said that it is difficult to gauge his performance at parliament.