Home Politically speaking Face to face with Botsalo Ntuane

Face to face with Botsalo Ntuane

BACK IN THE RACE: Botsalo Ntuane

Botsalo Ntuane has been there and seen( almost) it all in his political life. A former student activist, executive secretary of ruling party, specially elected MP, constituency elected MP and Leader of Opposition, his has been a chequered career so far. This week we place him in the spotlight.

Q: On Saturday you brought together thousands of people for a music festival rally featuring your favourite group Splash and popular local artists; was the event the launch of your campaign for the October general elections?

This event was meant to sensitize and mobilize eligible citizens, especially young people to register for elections in view of the fact that the exercise closes on 18th May 2014.

The problem of voter apathy is all over the place but in our constituency we decided to adopt a different strategy because there is no point in complaining that the IEC is not doing enough to register voters.

They are not running for elections. We are, and it is upon us to motivate voters if we want to be elected. No less importantly we wanted to promote the visibility and brand of the BDP and its candidates in the area.

We are very happy with the turn out which easily recorded the biggest attendance this election campaign season in the entire country. We are about to set a date for the official launch/ star rally.

Other activities are also lined up as we ramp up our preparations. We are back in business.

Q: Since your return to the BDP from the BMD, a party which you founded with some of your colleagues you have never disclosed the reasons for your decision. Can you share them with us?

I returned simply because I missed my party; one to which I had committed so much of myself throughout my life. Now in my early middle age I realized I had to end my political career where it all begun.

It’s as simple as that. People divorce and then return to their ex spouses. The same happened with me. It is now water under the bridge.

There is more to life than moaning and whinging about what is in the past. Life must go on. But for your interest I am starting work on my memoirs which might come out next year and will cover my political career.

After all I have been in frontline politics since 1994 and at a young age had worked with 2 presidents at close quarters. I have been there, seen it, done it and got the t shirt to prove it.

From a party political perspective I have been right at the centre, if not immediate periphery of key developments in our contemporary politics for the past 20 years.

Q: Oh that is interesting. What should we look forward to in the book?

Just be patient. Chill. You will get a complimentary copy when the book comes out.

Q: There were rumours that you were paid a million pula to return after President Khama and DIS Director Isaac Kgosi attended your wedding in Ramotswa. Where is the money?

My friend if I had a million bucks would I be wearing battered shoes? I remain a man of very modest means like many politicians in this country.

But is it not interesting that when people from opposition join or rejoin BDP they have received a handsome signing on fee but when they opt for the opposition ranks they did so out of own volition.

Mind you my wedding was also attended by Sir Ketumile and our late mother, Mme Mma Gaone, DK Kwelagobe, Satar Dada, Duma Boko, Dumelang and Dineo Saleshando and many notables. What have you got to say about them?

You must learn something about my character.

I am a man for all seasons, a pacifist and sociable person who goes out of his way to get on well with everyone. I don’t really subscribe to adversarial politics unless provoked and have to defend myself.

How I relate to my political rivals is exactly how I relate to everyone else outside politics. Thankfully politics in our country is not a matter of life and death, so why can’t we all get along and have fun together now and then at weddings and other social events?

Q:  The elections are just around the corner. How do you rate your chances against Ndaba Gaolathe of UDC and Buti Chengeta of BCP?

We are the incumbent party in Bonnington South. We need to hold onto our gains and consolidate our position.

Your recent Voice poll gave us 63 percent of the vote. Although one can quibble with your methodology for us that figure reflects to some degree what we detect on the ground. We are in the lead.

Our fate is in our hands. It must be said we respect all our opponents and can never underestimate them.

We think the main challenge to us will come from BCP though.

Q: You have been one of the most topical figures in local politics for some years now. Can you give our younger readers a brief profile of your political career?

I began as a grassroots activist at UB back in the 90’s when it was anathema for varsity students to associate with BDP.

It was expected that as soon as you enrolled at the big school then automatically you had to align with the opposition.

Indeed for those who were interested in politics that is what they did. It was very effective propaganda and the more impressionable students were taken up by the propaganda to the extent that up to today I know some people who remain opposition simply because they swallowed the UB propaganda hook, line and sinker.

There were those who were intimidated into opposition politics; which during our time was BNF/Mass politics.

I am a pretty strong willed person who is not detests being intimidated and when I decided to focus on campus politics I opted for BDP known on campus as GS 26 which was really my natural party.

I was part of a group of courageous students who took on the BNF/Mass head on and fought them to a standstill by banishing the culture of political intimidation from campus to permit free and open party political association. I remember during the 1994 elections at a GS 26 meeting when a batch of GUS Matlhabaphiri( who was contesting Gaborone Central) were delivered to us.

I could tell that our activists were nervous about wearing them due to the invariably hostile reception they would receive.

As chairman of GS 26 I had to be lead by example and volunteered to don a t shirt the following day; and if by end of day no harm had been visited on me, then we would have broken the psychological stranglehold.

Of course besides the half hearted taunts from BNF/Mass elements, who tended to be my drinking mates anyway, nothing untoward happened and very soon the t shirts were in demand all over campus.

I cannot take personal credit for the reversal of BNF/Mass dominance on campus.

We were a team of very committed BDP activists and in fact even before our arrival there were BDP activists on campus who though somewhat subdued laid the foundations on which we built a strong campus presence which in turn inspired many students to take pride in their party.

As Bryan Adams would sing ‘we were young and restless, we needed to unwind’.

Yes, GS 26 was an amazing rite of passage.

Q:  What is it about you and your affinity to the BDP?

Right from varsity I have invested my time and energies on the BDP. You know I have never had a job outside politics.

From university I was employed as a political officer at Tsholetsa House. And by the way I have been an additional member of the BDP Central Committee.

I was nominated as an additional member, at age 24 by then president Sir Ketumile Masire in 1995 following the Mogoditshane congress.

I had to resign from Central Committee on 1996 when I became a party employee.

In 1997 I was appointed Executive Secretary and in 1999 had a baptism of fire when as head of secretariat I had to prepare the party for the general elections.

I was there during discussions around the introduction of bulela ditswe and ran the first primaries under bulela ditswe in 2003.

The following year in 2004 I took the party, as head of secretariat to the general elections and in October following a successful campaign I was nominated to parliament by President Mogae with very strong support from then party chair VP Khama, Secretary General DK Kwelagobe and then Youth Chair Peter Meswele.

I must hasten to say many other democrats of goodwill also supported my nomination because they felt that after eight years at Tsholetsa House and two general election campaigns it was perhaps time for a promotion.

The BDP also facilitated my masters degree studies in mass communications in the UK, so to a large extent without the party I would probably be nothing.

Q:  If you had so much goodwill from the powers that be, why were you not appointed to cabinet then?

Its neither here nor there. Suffice to say politics is a funny game.

When I became additional member of Central Committee at 24 years I am sure there were hundreds of democrats who were worthy of the position and more experienced than me.

They were not considered. When I became Executive Secretary likewise. When I was nominated to parliament again there must have been scores of equally deserving democrats who didn’t make it.

So for me cabinet didn’t happen and for others, including those who came after me , it happened.

Such is the nature of politics and life in general, and as the Rolling Stones often remind me on a road trip ‘you cant’ always get what you want’.

Mind you there are tens of thousands of democrats who have been in the party for ages and have never been to council or parliament.

In other words politics is not an exact science. So some of us have been privileged and must count our blessings.

Q:  Why should Batswana vote for BDP in October when the country has problems?

The BDP remains the only political institution that can govern this republic. It is first and foremost the only nationalist political organization in the country and remains committed to a united Botswana where all have equal opportunities irrespective of background.

Besides safeguarding democracy, its record on human development indicators such as health, education, poverty reduction is unsurpassed for a country that was still a basket case as lately as the mid seventies.

The giant strides in delivery of social justice, public services and infrastructure is just astonishing when you pause to think of it. We have created a middle class through deliberate policy interventions that many can only marvel at.

I always say in sub Saharan Africa only the BDP can take a poor child from the remotest part of the country, send that child to one of the best universities in the world and for that child to return home as a doctor or some such professional and join the middle class with the parents still residing in the village as simple peasants but enjoying a government programme such as Ispaad all paid for by the state.

If this is not social justice then I don’t know what it is.

This remarkable record of national development and social justice is anchored on a welfare state in which the wealth of the country is spread to its citizens through free or heavily subsidized public and social services.

The list of achievements is endless. But that said we have challenges like any country including having to contend with the fact that success breeds expectations for even more.

Q:  So you support this dependency syndrome where the state provides everything?

I support the welfare state. In fact I have warned in parliament several times that should the BDP listen to insincere voices and abandon the welfare state that will signal its end as a ruling party.

So from where I am seated this so called dependency syndrome is a demeaning phrase used by those who have benefitted from the policies of the welfare state but seek to deny others the same.

If we send you to school for free how does it create dependency. If we give you free ARVs how does it create dependency.

If we grant you a low interest loan at CEDA to set up a business and employ fellow Batswana and in the process create wealth for yourself how can it be termed a dependency syndrome.

If you are unemployed and we put you on Ipelegeng for a modest wage to feed your family how does it qualify to be derisively called a dependency syndrome.

For me it is social justice and is only possible in a welfare state such as ours.

Q:  Why should voters return you to parliament?

I do my work in parliament in so far as addressing the problems of the constituency is concerned.

You should look at questions I ask about roads, lights, storm water drainage, schools, safety and security which are issues of concern as conveyed to me and my councilors by residents.

Our constituency is home to a lot of firms and we spend a lot of time resolving workplace disputes. I have set up a constituency burial scheme for low income residents.

We have many young people we assist in terms of enabling them to access government empowerment programmes.

In my first term when I was specially nominated I tended to focus more on national issues.

But as a constituency MP its more about local bread and butter issues.

My role is to disseminate government programmes which can make a meaningful impact on the daily lives of the constituency.

I hold the view that a representative who cannot disseminate government policies that can change peoples lives because they are opposed to such policies due to party affiliation cannot be entrusted with a mandate.

It is not only about me being returned to parliament; it’s also about my team of councilors.

As an MP you cant be everywhere nor interact with every constituent. It is just not possible in my constituency which has a population of 50 000 residents. My councilors are very crucial to my ability to deliver on my mandate.

Q:  And on a parting note where is Loose Canon?

Loose Canon is long dead. Let him rest in peace.