After surviving a plot hatched by ‘comrades’ in opposition to oust him from the position of Leader of Opposition last week, BMD Vice President and MP for Gaborone West South, Botsalo Ntuane speaks candidly to Francinah Baaitse about the future in opposition politics.
Speaking on the eve of a meeting to revive the opposition unity talks, this is what Ntuane had to say about the developments within the Opposition.
Q. You survived the coup, how does it feel?
I feel disappointed because it was unnecessary. It was something that could have been handled differently. At no point in my life have I ever considered refusing to step aside. There was no need for all the plotting because it simply would have taken some dialogue between the three opposition parties in the house for a smooth and none controversial changing of the Leaders.
Q. So did the coup take you by surprise?
There was no indication whatsoever that the action of that nature was planned. I got to hear about it shortly before the official letter was delivered at my residence.
Q. How did it affect your trust in other opposition MPs?
My view is that this is politics. In politics worse things than what happened to me already can happen but people always find ways of reconciling if only for purposes of achieving certain interests. So, I suppose it’s a question of take it or leave it. Life must go on.
Q. If you felt betrayed, why didn’t you opt out?
That was the consideration but I am deployed by my party and the view was that as part of the settlement I should continue.
Q. I understand the curtain is already closing anyhow and you have to step down around July or thereabout. Are we not going to see more drama then?
We haven’t decided on when the BNF should take over. But we will come to an agreeable timetable and there won’t be any problems.
Q. What have you achieved as the Leader of Opposition so far?
We managed to build a more cohesive organized opposition block. Last year we spoke in one voice. We held regular press conferences working as a unit. There was sense of purpose in what we were doing.
Q. What would happen to the coalition agreement if one of the parties involved gets an additional MP before the next general elections?
This agreement works only when there is a hampered opposition. That is how this deal came about.
Q. Following the collapse of the Umbrella (model name for opposition Party unity) do you think Opposition Party would go to the next general elections united?
The Umbrella hasn’t collapsed. It could be having problems but it should be seen in the context of the big debate in terms of making it work. Some of us still retain hope. In spite of all the problems, it would take off.
Q. You sound optimistic, yet the first round of talks failed!
I am optimistic. The first round of talks failed but the fact that people have come back to revive the talks would give optimism, otherwise people wouldn’t even bother if they had lost hope. I know parties have been invited for a meeting on the 16th February although I do not know who will be at the meeting.
Q. The major problem of your party is that it is associated with the ruling party. Do you think you can ever shed off the mark of your BDP roots?
There is no way in the foreseeable future that people would stop speculating about us retracing our steps back to the BDP for reasons best known to themselves. We still interact with BDP members because they are our relatives and that is the nature of Botswana politics. When you leave a party it doesn’t mean you cut ties with the people that you know.
Q.When responding to this year’s budget speech, you avoided talking for the entire opposition. Are you now walking on egg shells around your colleagues?
No I am not walking on egg shells around anyone. It was simply impossible to speak for the three collective opposition parties because for me to do that we needed to have sat down and agreed on the content of the speech. I made the speech on the same afternoon I was reappointed the leader of opposition. I spoke because there were very few MPs who wanted to speak that evening and so I was afraid that the Speaker would call the Minister to respond (bringing the debates to an end). So the most practical thing to do was to speak for my party. I did not have a chance to speak for others and as a result I was given less time, which was equivalent to that given to leaders of the other three opposition parties.
Q. How is the relationship between you and the Republic President?
We get on well as a Leader of Opposition should with the President of the Country. We have a normal relationship. We met twice. The first meeting was a courtesy call last year and the second meeting was when he asked me to discuss the appointment of the Ombudsman. He told me he wanted to appoint the Ombudsman and he already had Festinah Bakwena’s name in mind.
Q. So what was the point of the meeting if the President had already made his choice?
In terms of the Constitution the President has to consult with the Leader of Opposition if he intends to appoint a new Ombudsman, which he did. So it made sense that I should talk to other Opposition MPS. The opposition Party Caucus suggested three names for consideration by the President, although none were successful. This is the process you have to go through. It is part and parcel of governance.
Q. Are you planning to meet the President before you leave office?
We have agreed that if there is need, either one of us can call a meeting. I suppose the same spirit would be maintained when the BNF takes over the role of Leader of Opposition in future.