SA’s sleepy sibling Botswana becoming restless

Staff Writer | Jun 19, 2019
For most of its post-independence period, Botswana has been something of a haven of stability in Africa, but it seems to be becoming (in the Chinese sense of the term) ‘interesting’.

Former president Ian Khama, whose term ended in 2018, has taken the extraordinary step of quitting the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which put him in power.

Khama – the son of Botswana first President, Seretse Khama – said that this was because of deep differences with the man who succeeded him, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Botswana has been criticised for establishing a convention of presidential succession which amounts to a sitting president effectively anointing his successor via appointment to the vice-presidency, which is an almost guaranteed path to the presidency itself.

When Khama announced his resignation from the BDP, he said that he would support the opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

Politics in Botswana is becoming increasingly competitive. In 2014, the BDP’s share of the vote dropped below 50% for the first time in the country’s history. However, because of the Westminster system used by Botswana, the BDP still managed to win 37 of the 63 seats in the Botswana Parliament, with the UDC coming second with 30% of the vote and 17 seats. The next general election is scheduled for October this year.

Prominent South Africans are now being pulled into the political intrigue in our peaceful neighbour to the north.

A Botswana newspaper, the Sunday Standard, alleged that Patrice Motsepe, one of South Africa’s richest men, and his sister, Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe, had together donated R33 million to the campaign of Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Venson-Moitoi is claimed to have attempted to unseat Masisi as leader of the BDP at the party’s elective conference last month. Motsepe met Khama at OR Tambo International Airport earlier in the year, where, it was claimed, the ousting of Masisi was discussed. Motsepe strongly denied the allegations and said it was simply a courtesy meeting, adding that his and Venson-Moitoi’s fathers were close friends.

The paper claimed Motsepe-Radebe was one of only a handful of South Africans required to apply for a visa before entering Botswana, apparently due to her alleged meddling in Botswana politics.

Motsepe is now suing the Sunday Standard for defamation regarding the accusations about his involvement in allegedly attempting to influence the BDP vote.

Botswana, which is generally seen as something of a sleepy backwater, could be in for some interesting times – not least should the BDP lose its majority in parliament for the first time.


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