‘Super’ and ‘Sticks’ exchange ‘blows’ at a packed Phikwe stadium
It was the face-off many people had been waiting for.
An afternoon bout in the mould of the much publicised Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight.
President Ian Khama’s farewell tour of Selebi Phikwe, after months of skirting the coal mine, finally presented Selebi Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse an opportunity to deliver his TKO punch.
A day before the showdown, Khama’s ‘technical’ team sent Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi to gauge the mood around Phikwe.
Morupisi arrived in the coal mine town with his entourage aboard government SUVs.
The PSP was bombarded with missiles by former BCL employees at a packed Phikwe Town Council as a beaming Keorapetse sat quietly amongst the forlorn faced ex miners, occasionally exchanging notes with key figures of the discarded BCL workforce.
“We don’t want you, we want President Khama,” was the underlying message from the unhappy miners.
Outnumbered and outwitted, Morupisi retreated to Gaborone where he undoubtedly warned his principals about the hostile reception they could expect the following day.
It was a battle of mind games that backfired on the PSP.
For Keorapetse, who has been itching for a fight for some time, there was never a better time to floor the first citizen in front of an admiring home support.
Spurred on by the anger he witnessed at the Town Hall the previous day, ‘Sticks’ was puffed-up and threw jab after jab, mesmerising the Phikwe audience with his eloquence.
Keorapetse went for the jugular; he immediately reminded Khama that it took him 17 months to check on Phikwe residents since the BCL closure.
The Phikwe West MP’s strategy was simple; he had to show potential voters that the outgoing president was no Messiah but an uncaring individual who refused to address them in their hour of need and who only came to collect gifts as he bid them farewell.
“In October 2016 Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi came to this very stadium to deliver the sad news of the mine’s closure. He then promised that government will create a soft landing for BCL employees. That has not happened,” charged Keorapetse to a resounding cheer.
The fired-up MP challenged Khama to show political will to ensure that all former BCL employees are treated fairly and paid their dues.
“These miners deserve retrenchment packages. Many of them face jail, while some are now patients at Sbrana Psychiatric Institution.
“Mr President some former BCL employees have committed suicide,” he said, with a moment’s pause to allow the message to sink in.
“We ask you to open the mine, so our people can find employment,” Keorapetse pleaded, looking the outgoing President directly in the eye as he spoke, his tone verging on respectful for the first time.
It was a sucker punch that left Khama exposed in the corner. How would the President untangle himself from this one?
When he took to the podium, the country’s leader made his intentions known early on, going on the offensive immediately.
“You’ve all listened to your MP attacking me. But as you know I’m a soldier, I return fire with fire,” warned the bare knuckled Khama, who was clearly geared up for a verbal spat.
Like a true military man, His Excellency targeted Keorapetse’s soft spots.
His strategy was to portray his opponent as a stiff necked young fool blinded by opposition politics to realities on the ground.
“You say it has been 17 months since the mine closure and I’ve never set foot here. Let me also tell this people that in your four years as their MP you have never set foot in my office like other members of parliament,” said Khama. It was an uppercut that landed square on Keorapetse’s chin.
“Other MPs come to my office to discuss issues affecting their constituencies with me. I’m still waiting for you, please come to my office before I retire,” mocked President Khama.
“I’d also like to state here that we are not going to open BCL.” You could hear a pin drop as Khama’s revelation slowly filtered through.
“The mine is old and is not profitable,” was Khama’s simple maneuver to Keorapetse’s sucker punch.
The outgoing president took it on the chin with barely a flinch.
He was now punching below the belt and seemed to revel in Keorapetse’s repeated grimaces.
As he ridiculed the Botswana Congress Party strong man, Khama hailed Phikwe East legislator Nonofo Molefhi in the same breath.
He said it was Molefhi who pleaded with government to let BCL employees stay in mine houses for free while still looking for alternative accommodation.
“He was in my office every day, and we discussed Phikwe issues together,” he said.
It was a tactical fight between a youthful MP and an aging Head of State; the jury is still out about who won.
However, as Khama and his entourage sped off into the afternoon sun, Keoprapetse couldn’t resist one final parting shot.
“Why should I come to his office to discuss issues of national interest? Parliamentary issues are discussed in parliament, but he’s never there!”