Did Saleshando Provide Real Leadership in Palapye?

Conflict Resolution remains the bane of opposition parties in Botswana and when the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) held its Leadership Forum in Palapye over the weekend, the name of the location stirred memories of Palapye 1998, a cataclysmic political event which saw the BNF split into two irreconcilable factions.
The outcome of that political upheaval was the formation of the BCP whose return to Palapye for a Leadership Forum this past weekend was not just symbolic 20 years later but important in helping contribute to the discourse of conflict resolution in Botswana politics.
However, the BCP, a party responsible for many progressive innovations in the opposition space over the years, seemed to read from the same script read to its faction of 20 years ago. During the fallout with a faction in his Central Committee, Dr. Kenneth Koma- BNF president at the time, told those who disagreed with him over direction of the party to leave and form their own party, words similar to those uttered by BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando in Palapye over the weekend when he warned members of the party who “attack the party in public” to leave it “in peace”.
While Koma later changed his tone and preached reconciliation, the consequence of the proud ultimatum he gave Michael Dingake, Gilson Saleshando (Dumelang’s father) and others at the time was far reaching and is still being felt today; that is, where the quibbling leaders had the option to be “bigger men” and seek a middle ground, they failed to tolerate each other- with party leader Dr. Koma placing emotions of bitter rivalry ahead of “leadership”- that demanding responsibility to seek a middle ground and establish more commonality at all cost than difference and avert the hereditary curse of destructive factionalism which has bedeviled the opposition ever since the 1965 polls when the BPP split ahead of what could have been a good showing at the polls.
“Those who are not willing to respect the party’s decisions or attack the party in public should just leave us with peace because we cannot tolerate this conduct. You cannot claim to be a member while on the other hand you attack it. So, the best option for these kind of members is to leave our party because we cannot just leave them without taking actions against them,” declared Saleshando over the weekend, sending a warning that is all too common in Botswana politics.
Lack of internal party democracy in Botswana political parties is well documented, and while the recent conduct of former BCP activist Chibuya Dabutha who rebelled from the party to run in last year’s Tshimoyapula by-elections- was probably a step too far- it is indicative of a desire by members of opposition parties to hold divergent views within their parties without being punished- because that is how democracy works; Party leaders in Botswana are authoritarian (Lotshwao:2011) and will continue to pay the price for this if they do not widen the democratic space and processes within their parties.