The Botswana Democratic Party is entering unchartered territory as its electoral conference kicks off in Kang, 400km north-west of the capital Gaborone. It is the first time in the party’s almost six decades of existence that the leadership has been contested this viciously. President Mokgweetsi Masisi was up against former foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, for leadership of the party, but the latter withdrew after most of her backers were disqualified from attending the conference, and after an unsuccessful last-minute court bid from her to interdict the conference from happening.
Masisi, the former vice-president, took over the country’s presidency from Ian Khama almost exactly a year ago after Khama’s 10-year term came to an end. Soon, however, a power struggle ensued between the two inside the party, and Khama has subsequently declared his support for Venson-Moitoi, who was sacked as foreign minister after she tweeted in December that she would be contesting Masisi. Masisi is likely to emerge the BDP leader after this weekend’s congress, and the party’s presidential candidate in Botswana’s countrywide elections later in the year.
It’s been a bitter power struggle, and last weekend businesswoman and president of the South African Mining Development Association, Bridgette Radebe, found herself in the middle of it when Botswana’s Sunday Standard published a story claiming that she and her businessman brother Patrice Motsepe, who is also in mining, were funding Venson-Moitoi’s campaign to the tune of millions of rand.
Radebe did not respond to phone calls or messages on Friday, but she has read the WhatsApp from Daily Maverick with questions on this matter.
The Sunday Standard reported that she, together with Botswana MP Samson Guma Moyo and Botswana-based Prevailing Securities MD Shadrack Baaitse were supposed to meet with Khama and a delegation at Vic Falls on the north-western border of Zimbabwe and not far from the Botswana border last Saturday. They were allegedly supposed to hand him $5,5-million (almost R80-million) in cash that he was supposed to smuggle into Botswana to fund Venson-Moitoi’s campaign. Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation reportedly received a tip-off about this and intercepted them, detaining Radebe and her companions briefly and interrogating them. They were reportedly unable to search her jet (the reason for this is unclear, although a Daily Maverick source speculated that diplomatic immunity could have applied) and sent her packing.
Radebe reportedly flew to Zimbabwe in a private jet out of Lanseria Airport.
On Thursday Khama posted a denial of any money smuggling on his Facebook page, calling the report “shallow, shallow lies”, but did admit to meeting Radebe. He denied, however, that he came with a delegation that included Venson-Moitoi. Khama said he flew from Shakawe in Botswana to Vic Falls “for a reunion meeting with Ambassador Andrew Young”. The 87-year-old civil liberties activist and friend of Martin Luther King Jr was fresh from a visit to South Africa where the University of Johannesburg conferred an honourary doctorate on him.
Khama also said “there was no drama at all as contrary to the report that both Honorable Guma Moyo and Bridgette Motsepe were harassed and deported at the airport. The reunion went as planned and both of them left at their own volition.” He said: “no one was ever questioned, harassed, detained or deported at any time during their stay in Victoria Falls”.
Khama also said it would not have been necessary to smuggle money into Botswana, nobody pledged $5.5 million to Venson-Moitoi’s campaign, and even if they did, “there is no law barring such so there will be absolutely no reason to smuggle the money”.
Radebe is married to Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, and is also sister to Tshepo Motsepe, wife of President Cyril Ramaphosa. Her alleged involvement in the presidential succession tussles in a neighbouring country is therefore important and could lead to perceptions that her backing of Venson-Moitoi carries the approval of Ramaphosa. The South African government has a policy of not interfering with the internal politics of other countries.
A South African official has confirmed that the government was aware of the reports and was looking into the matter. The Sunday Standard reported that the government does not back Bridgette Radebe’s support of Venson-Moitoi.
Incidentally, Venson-Moitoi was the Southern African Development Community’s candidate to take over the African Union Commission chair when Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma stepped down in 2017, but unofficially the backing from South Africa was said to have been lukewarm.
Minister Jeff Radebe has not responded to a whatsapp message requesting comment.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Sangoni was not immediately available for comment.
ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete and head of the international relations subcommittee Lindiwe Zulu, have not responded to questions on whether the ANC will send a representative to the BDP conference this weekend, as is the custom. DM
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