TAKING ON THE MIGHT OF BOTSWANA POLITICS
The past few years have seen a radical change in the political landscape of Botswana. And in the forefront of that is change, is the youthful Member of Parliament, Botsalo Ntuane. He is one of the founders of the Botswana Movement for Democracy, a painful break-way from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
For years he has defended the BDP, first as it’s youthful executive secretary at the break of the new millennium and then as the specially elected MP. But by the time he finally dirtied his fingers to contest for the Gaborone West South Constituency, which he wrestled from the opposition last year, Ntuane was already at loggerhead with the President of the land and the BDP. It was inevitable that he was in leading the disgruntled out to form BMD, of which he is now the interim deputy chairman.
LEBOGANG MODIBEDI met him to discover what he is really about and. Is this a lion or a weaning cub? Read on and be the judge…
Q. Describe yourself in a sentence.
Conscientious, loyal, resolute and funny at times.
Q. “The mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation.” What does this quote from a poem by Thoreau mean to you as a politician, a man of the people?
I have a distinct memory of the day we lost the (Gomolemo) Motswaledi appeal case in Lobatse. I was at the crossroads. Our group gathered at the Cumberland Hotel for lunch. Whilst seated there, I spotted a young couple reclining on the deck chairs by the poolside sipping cocktails, having a great time. The scene was straight out of a picture postcard. It occurred to me that theirs was the kind of life I had always dreamt of. I compared the postcard scene with the political situation we were stuck in, and at that precise moment, it dawned on me that my life had changed forever. By associating myself with Motswaledi and the cause he and others were fighting, the opportunity to lye by the poolside on a deck chair seemed light years away. I had embraced a life of struggle for the people.
Q. What does your favourite song remind you of?
Do I have a favourite song? I have plenty of favourite songs depending on the mood and setting. I have a very diverse taste in music, ranging from kwasa kwasa to rock, mbaqanga of Mogatusi Kwapa, dipina le maboko (songs and poetry) on RB1 and so on. For the past few weeks I have been in my Bob Dylan phase, his song, The Times they Are Changing, resonates with the momentous political developments taking place.
Q. What really made you leave the Botswana Democratic Party?
Our divorce from a party in which we loved will remain a subject of animated debate for years to come. It was no longer justifiable to be part of an organisation that has knowingly changed its most fundamental defining character – internal party democracy. We could no longer relate with a party that had surrendered its very soul to the whims and likes of a single individual. My colleagues and I consider ourselves liberals committed to the maintenance of an open, democratic society. BDP was launching a vicious assault on civil liberties and human rights. Our country is unrecognisable since April 2008. It is a society permeated by fear, mistrust and frustration. We could no longer stomach this terrible state of affairs. And like other men and women in societies that have experienced what our country is going through, we chose to resist oppression and fight for freedom and democracy.
Q. Do you think leaving and the war cries that followed have demonstrated good leadership qualities upon the people?
We were left with no alternative to the road we have taken. Some have suggested we could have fought from within. That is exactly what we did when we fought on the side of the constitution at the Kanye congress. Democrats heard us and delivered a resounding verdict consonant with our rallying cry. As we all know the victory of democrats at Kanye was sabotaged and undermined at every turn. We found ourselves in an organisation that had abandoned faith in democracy. Any attempts to address the situation were met with persecution. The stark reality is that BDP was no longer possible to reform from within. Reformation of that party will only come about when they are voted out of power in 2014, or earlier. Only defeat will allow them to take time out for some serious introspection.
Q. Why Politics? Was it your chosen field of study?
My first love was journalism. At varsity I dabbled in the craft, freelancing (and getting paid well) for a newspaper called Newslink Africa. Following its ignominious demise, I felt betrayed and in any case no one would offer me a job as a freelancer. The spare time I had led me into campus politics on the side of the BDP and that was the beginning. And the story continues.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the next five, 10 and 20 years from now?
In five years I see myself living through a historic episode when the country embraces a new government that knows it serves at the pleasure of the people, as opposed to the current scenario where the people in power believe they are God’s gift to Botswana and therefore can treat us as they please. In 10 years I see the curtain coming down on my political career, after which I will commence a life of travel and writing. In 15 years I want to witness the government that took over in 2014 being voted out in favour of a different party. I have concluded that the root problem with our country, as in other ruined countries that Botswana is so determined to emulate, is prolonged one party rule which is a sure recipe for what we are witnessing now – assault on democratic values and fundamental freedoms, corruption, leadership arrogance, human rights violations, privatisation of the state, nepotism, erosion of civil liberties and other excesses. If I had my way Batswana would replace the government every five years and at most allow one government only 10 years, before sending them OUT to pasture!
Q. Where do you see Botswana in the next five years?
My worst nightmare is to see Botswana going the way of other African countries, which contrived to destroy themselves because some selfish individuals believed they were bigger than the country. Therefore my wish is for a democratic, liberal, prosperous, and peaceful, compassionate and equal opportunity Botswana.
Q. What qualities do you seek in a wife? In other words why have you still not found what you are looking for?
I think at my age, I know more or less what I want in a spouse. Perhaps it’s a question of the jitters. But it may just happen that some day you will receive an invitation card!
Q. How do you unwind at the weekend?
I am a regular guy, easy-going and very sociable around a close-knit circle of mates. We go camping in order to bond and relax. During the World Cup, if we are not driving to watch some game we gather around the TV set together. But ever since the BMD project began it is not easy to find free time. I also read quite a bit. It has been a source of mystery to me how so many people can go through a day, let alone a whole lifetime without ever picking up a book.
Q. Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to have a conversation with?
My late grandfather James Ntuane who was one of the early pioneers of the BDP. He was one of two full time party organisers in the country during its early days. Our conversation would deal with the question of whether the party they formed still stands for the same values and beliefs.
Q. Which song just makes you want to get up and dance?
I don’t really dance. But I am a pretty good listener of music. I admire people who can dance. I went to watch Michael Jackson’s This Is It, twice. In a different time I fancy I could be a hotshot music producer.
Q. As a man who has travelled extensively how do you feel about the lack of extracurricular facilities for the people?
As a Gaborone legislator, I think the city needs a big clean and green park with all amenities where families can go relax, joggers exercise and young people can go relax and have clean, nice fun. In fact this is what every population centre needs. I also want to see campaigns aimed at getting young people to read more.
Q. At what age do you see yourself moving aside for new blood?
Ten years’ time sounds reasonable. It is important to mentor, move aside to give others opportunity to shine and reinvent oneself.
Q. In your eyes what would demonstrate success to a statesman such as yourself?
I want to lead a comfortable life. But that said coming from a developing country, and with poor relatives myself, I wish a better life for all. It is particularly depressing that we still have so much deprivation. Truth be told, the BDP government has done a lot but more remains outstanding. That is why in all my endeavours, making a contribution to the attainment of social justice remains an imperative.
Q. What do you want to be remembered for?
A person who loved his country, who served and did his civic duty for the people.
Q. What are your last words?
Where there is courage and conviction, victory is certain…
Date of Birth: 11 March 1971
Place of Birth: Mmadinare, but a Phikwe boy
Education: BA Humanities (UB), MA Mass Communication (UK)
Favourite Foods: Ledombi le nama (dumplings and beef stew)
Favourite Book: A House for Biswas by VS Naipaul
Movie: City of God, Shawshank Redemption, Goodfellas, and Scarface
Documentaries: When we were kings, Mobutu; the rise and fall.