When the name Lesego Raditanka is spoken in Botswana political circles, a lot of people take notice. The 65-year-old veteran politician, who has been in politics for the past 40 years, credits his longevity in politics to his good working relationship with the leadership of his party and electorates and his ability to put party before everything.
Raditanka, who is popularly known by the nickname ‘Tanks’ by both his supporters and his opponents, stood the test of time in a field that most come and go as fast as they came in. While some people treat politics as a retirement destination after leaving their previous jobs, Tanks said he had only known politics as his paying job throughout his life.
Raditanka grew up in a family that affiliated with Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and it is obvious why he too became a BDP member.
He was influenced to be active in politics at just 23 years in 1977 by the then Mmashoro councillor John Phiri while he was still a student at Serowe Brigade where he was pursuing Trade test C in Machine Fitting.
He said Phiri might have seen something in him because he (Raditanka) was a very vocal student. He accepted the invitation to join BDP with both hands because at school he was outspoken on political issues.
“Back then Serowe Brigade was a Botswana National Front (BNF) stronghold. They dominated the school and even the staff was predominantly BNF members and being a democrat I always clashed with them because they talked communism while I was vigorously preaching democracy,” said Tanks, adding with a wry smile on his face that he was even expelled from some classes because of his political affiliation.
“They elected me the student president. I guess it was an effort to try and silence me because they thought being an SRC president came with the responsibility of being a role model to other students. They thought I will soften my stance, they were wrong,” said Tanks.
The strategy to silence him did not work and when Raditanka finally completed his Trade Test C he was not allowed to continue his studies at the brigade. He said this did not deter him because he applied and was called for a job interview at De Beers.
Sir Seretse calls
When he finally went for the interview, he was summoned by the party and informed that there was a request from the President of the BDP, Sir Seretse Khama, who wanted him to come back and serve the party.
Although he was reluctant to come back because he still wanted to further his studies and pursue a career, Raditanka was persuaded by his parents to honour the request. According to Raditanka, he served as the party Organiser and Secretary for the then Serowe North East Constituency branch where he was paid P100 by the party and another P100 by a local businessman, under the leadership of MP Colin Blackbeard.
Raditanka said his servitude and sacrifice to the party did not go unnoticed because in 1979 when a council seat fell vacant he was again called upon to represent the party as a council candidate. “Back then there was no Bulela Ditswe, the selection process was done from those in the party structure, and I don’t know why I was chosen among the others, who had been there before me, but those that were overlooked for the position did not protest the leadership decision, they rather supported me. I won the elections and the rest as they say is history,” he said.
Raditanka said he had served under different committees in the council which include leading the then Serowe/ Palapye district from 1999 to 2004. “Back then there were no Chairpersons. It was only committees and I was the Chairman of the finance committee which oversaw other committees and through my position it meant that I led the district,” he revealed, adding that among his major achievements was successfully advocating for the division of Serowe/Palapye district.
He said his leadership skills did not go unnoticed because in 2004 he was elected as Central District Council chairman which he led until he was ousted in 2014. Raditanka said some of his achievements while CDC chairman include the decentralization of responsibilities so that sub district councils could efficiently make their plans from their respective sub districts and meet at the district headquarters for policy issues.
Apart from his achievements at CDC, Raditanka said he achieved a lot at the party level, as he influenced the formation of the youth committee. “In 1977 at a BDP conference in Mochudi, myself, Botlogilwe Tshireletso, Leach Tlhomelang, the late Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri and others proposed for the formation of a youth wing,” he said, proud of the milestone they achieved for the party. When their request was granted, they formed an interim committee where he was elected an additional member and it was in 1978 in Mahalapye that they convened to draft the committee rules and regulations. “I served under the youth executive committee as additional member until the rules were changed, putting a requirement that those who serve in NYEC should be 35 and below,” he said.
Tanks who had served under all the presidents at both government and the party structure said he had never had any problem with any of them. In fact he said he had served the party under all of them as a political and election committee member from the 1980s to date, a position that is appointed by the President, which he said showed the trust they have on him as a leader.
Though some politicians look to advance their political career by challenging for parliamentary seat, Raditanka also was no exception as he also had those ambitions and even the electorates encouraged him to pursue the parliament seat, but he did not bring them to fruition. However he said he does not regret the decisions he took that denied him to reach that milestone. “When Colin Blackbeard left politics because of old age, both his Roy Backbeard and myself wanted to fill the vacant position, but I decided to compromise and let Blackbeard who was also my friend represent the party, the same happened with Ian Khama who was recruited from the BDF by the BDP, as a tactic by the leadership to stabilize the party that was at the time engulfed by factions, I let him stand, I did the same with his brother Tshekedi Khama, I was even their campaign manager” he said. He said all the decision he took were for the stability of the party.
Although he managed to stand the test of time, it was a shock to many when he was defeated in the 2019 general elections. But Tanks said to him it was not a surprise because of the political landscape at the time. He said he was contesting against a party that was banking on the popularity of the paramount chief of Bagammangwato Lt General Seretse Khama Dr Ian Khama. “I knew that I was going to lose because they used Khama’s popularity as a Paramount chief to get votes. He was used as tool to gain votes. I am not complaining because everyone uses any tactics at their disposal to get votes, it’s part of politics,” he said, adding that even though he lost he is glad the BDP managed to retain power.
Raditanka said throughout his political life the BDP had always been his first priority. Quizzed as to why he did not join the break away party and the Khama brothers whom he has always been close to, as he served under their father and under both of them, Tanks said BDP comes before an individual. “My loyalty is with the BDP, I joined the BDP not the person, I would not compromise my ideals for one man, I have long preached the ideals of BDP and for me to abandon this for one man’s feelings was not something I will do, my conscience would not allow me…in competitions there are winners and losers and I am at peace with my loss,” said Raditanka.
The former councillor said he respects Dr Khama as his Paramount chief, leader of his regiment (Mophato), and Chairman of Miscellaneous Football Club among other positions. However, they differ when it comes to politics, proving that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics.
When questioned about his political future, Tanks said he agreed with his family that the 2019 election was his last race. “We agreed that after 2019 there will be no more, but right now I am still part of the Party structure and we have not gone to elective congress. So you never know," he said.