After months of negative reports about her, ranging from her bankrolling a campaign by former Botswana president Ian Khama to effecting regime change ahead of the governing Botswana Democratic Party’s conference a few months ago to a possible affair and D.i.v.o.r.c.e from husband Jeff Radebe to terrorism, Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe finally gathered the courage to face the media and defend herself.
Dressed in a black and white check and a matching vintage wide-brimmed black hat, armed with a PowerPoint presentation and flanked by reputation management specialist and former Jacob Zuma spin doctor Vincent Magwenya, Motsepe-Radebe thanked South African journalists for at least trying to be fair to her.
The press conference was in Johannesburg because the allegations against her mean she must apply for a visa to go to Botswana, which means she’s effectively barred from going there. It also meant the Botswana journalists in question were not at the press conference.
“There’s a lot of reputational damage being done and incorrect reporting to the extent that you have character assassination,” she said. “In particular, I want to single out the Sunday Standard. I fail to understand how a newspaper on their own can just continue to write a lot of incorrect nonsense about individuals and about certain citizens of their country.”
While Motsepe-Radebe vowed to sue the paper, her unhappiness wasn’t really about the messenger as much as it was about the Botswana government, and, in particular, President Mokgweetsi Masisi who only last week received an overwhelming mandate from the voters themselves after first coming into power 18 months ago through a smooth transition when Khama’s 10 years in office ended.
Khama, however, soon had second thoughts about his former deputy, whom he described as “autocratic”, “immature and arrogant” and “intolerant”, and tried to challenge him through a proxy, former foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, for the BDP’s leadership, but failed.
He also failed to win back the government in the elections when even the opposition leaders could not manage to secure a majority in their constituencies. At least the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front, which Khama left the BDP to join a few months ago, won three constituencies in his Serowe stronghold.
The Sunday Standard, under a “Staff Reporter” byline, has published damaging information about Khama’s associates, including Radebe-Mostepe, seemingly leaked from an intelligence source on an almost weekly basis. It ranged from bringing millions of rands into the country to finance political campaigns to laundering billions of dollars. There have also been allegations that she’s given money to former spy chief Isaac Kgosi, who is close to Khama and who loudly threatened to topple government after his arrest on suspicion of tax evasion in January. Kgosi clearly considers the pursuit of a political plot driven by those in power.
This week, The Voice newspaper in Botswana had a news flash on its Facebook page saying that Motsepe-Radebe has been “fingered in the ongoing case against [a] disgraced DIS (Directorate of Intelligence Services) agent” codenamed “Butterfly” by channelling money linked to Kgosi and “alleged to be financing terrorism” through her.
It’s this court case that finally spurred Radebe-Motsepe into action, and as part of her PowerPoint presentation she quoted an article alleging that the BDP was using the intelligence services to fight its political battles.
She didn’t once say it overtly, but Motsepe indirectly accused Masisi of handling the whole thing badly. Asked by journalists why she didn’t reach out to the Botswana authorities about the criminal allegations (never mind refusing to go into a “tit for tat” conversation with the Sunday Standard to correct their facts), Motsepe-Radebe launched into a veiled attack riddled with ellipses against the executive authority himself. Clearly she thinks he’s the only one who could stop this.
“I was at the World Economic Forum, I know President Masisi, we were at varsity together, we greeted each other, we even took a picture. And I asked him, ‘can I come and see you, because I need to talk to you about what is happening’. And you know what? We are protégés of great men and great women in this country,” she said, rattling off the names of former president Nelson Mandela, and struggle stalwarts Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, as well as her parents.
“We were taught one thing: unity and reconciliation. All I’m doing when talking to friends and family in Botswana — even Tata Mandela did not create a conflict, a Palestine, beyond us winning the elections,” she continued, possibly with the recent memory of Botswana’s polls in mind.
It’s not clear whether she had Khama, a family friend dating back from their parents’ time in Fort Hare, in mind when she said the following:
“He brought in former president [FW] De Klerk, and made him deputy president, and I always say ‘let us learn from our forefathers and let us learn from our elders, unite and reconcile. Today, even President [Cyril] Ramaphosa brought [Good party leader Patricia] de Lille in [as minister]. We unite. Even opposition parties, this is what we do, this is how we were brought up in this country and this is what we always do.”
Motsepe-Radebe might have tried to clear the allegations against her, but might inadvertently have made life difficult for brother-in-law Ramaphosa, who is already missing Masisi’s inauguration on Friday 1 November because he has to fly to Tokyo to support the Boks in the Rugby World Cup final. Unfortunately for Ramaphosa, his office was slow off the mark in congratulating Masisi on his party’s election win. It took until Monday night, even as the results were declared on Friday, for the Presidency to issue its statement. The ANC didn’t even bother.
Motsepe-Radebe did give assurances that things were fine with the neighbours because both former international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu, as well as head of the ANC’s international subcommittee Lindiwe Zulu, went there before to smooth things over. Ramaphosa himself might want to pop over there sometime himself. It’s never good to have trouble with an ally and a neighbour. DM