If the dictionary needed a descriptive image of what self-assuredness looks like, Tshephang Mabaila would make for the ideal choice. SONNY SERITE takes a look at the young politician whose unbridled confidence earned him a suspension from the ruling party.
When he speaks, regardless of the substance or lack-thereof, it is always with insurmountable confidence. Garbed in immaculate designer suits that befit what many political pundits consider his “smugness”, Mabaila’s smile has the power to win over most sceptics, akin to the inspiring trust often reserved for corner store preachers and of course politicians like him.
Tshephang Mabaila is said to be only 28 years old but he is pregnant with confidence, so much so it is alleged that he believed he could coerce adults twice his age to conspire to remove a sitting president from office. President Masisi, who is also BDP Party President has since suspended him from the organisation over allegations that he solicited support from members of parliament to vote in favour of Leader of Opposition Duma Boko’s motion of no confidence on him. Allegations further suggest that when the roles were distributed at the war room, Mabaila was assigned to smooth-talk legislators into supporting Boko’s call to recall Masisi.
The damning details of his letter of suspension begin with the alleged betrayal at the hands of those he sought to influence, sending shockwaves across the country’s political divide. “Reference is made to the above subject matter and to your utterances to Hon Dr. Alfred Madigele, Hon Sethomo Lelatisitswe on July 10th 2018 and letter addressed to the Secretary General from the Branch Secretary dated 3rd December 2017 and 2nd August 2018,” reads the preamble to his almost certain political demise.
It takes the bravery of a lion and the confidence of an elephant to try and remove a sitting president from office. It also takes the naivety of an amateur politician to believe members of parliament would not “snitch” to endear themselves to the sitting president. Whatever motivated Mabaila’s alleged move, one thing is certain, the confidence he has in himself sealed his fate.
Those who know him well claim Mabaila is used to getting his way. They further suggest that during his days in the army the man affectionately known to his former constituents as “Bailas” had the ear of the army’s top brass. Mabaila has always been Khama’s sidekick (a person’s close associate, especially one who has less authority than that person), not to be confused with a side chick.
It started, apparently, back then when Khama was the Commander of the BDF and Mabaila was Private in the army. Khama’s authority has always rubbed off on him and as such, it might explain why he purportedly had the audacity to lobby BDP MP’s against Masisi on Khama’s behalf.
Unfortunately for him, approaching BDP MP’s, some of them Cabinet Ministers, Mabaila was treading proverbial dangerous ground.
In the damning letter of suspension against him, Mabaila is further accused of a litany of offenses against the party he serves including, “sowing the seeds of discord in the party, using regionalism tribalism or factionalism contrary to the General Code of Conduct….. as well as contemptuous behaviour towards party leadership.”
As a novice, it appears Mabaila failed to recognise shifting allegiances, allegedly blinded by the influence he apparently used to wield. In a story published by the Botswana Gazette issue from the 14th March 2018, former Minister Prince Maele revealed how Mabaila had approached him and promised to deliver him from all his troubles through his unfettered access the president. At the time, Maele was the focus of DCEC investigation alleging financial impropriety of which the famous dustbin containing P50 000 was the main exhibit.
The fact is Mabaila has never worked for the Office of the President but certainly appeared to wield noticeable influence at the highest office in the land, so much so that during the late Sir Ketumile Masire’s funeral in Kanye, Mabaila was part of the OP’s protocol team and even wore a tag around his neck and presented himself to the public as such. He could even ‘play’ inside President Khama’s office, evidenced by a selfie he posted on his Facebook page showing him comfortably sitting on Khama’s presidential chair.
Last week Mabaila went to the Office of the President, but this time it was not for an impromptu photo op. He was summoned to collect his suspension letter from Masisi’s office.
“It is alleged that you have failed to act accordingly and used rumour mongering to castigate other members in your branch. It is also alleged that you have repeatedly disrespected the Branch committee and sown the seeds of factionalism. It is alleged further that you have also shown that you are against the party president and promoted the interest of other parties against the BDP by mobilising oppositions members and BDP members to vote for a motion of confidence tabled by the Leader of opposition,” it further reads.
In an interview with this publication immediately after collecting his suspension letter, Mabaila expressed shock at the charges levelled against him. ‘’I don’t even know this MP Lelatisitswe that I’m accused of talking to.” This was his brief statement to our publication and the normally vocal and of course confident Mabaila was unusually at a loss for words.
‘‘I have determined that this is one of the exceptional circumstances in which I should exercise the powers conferred upon me as Party President as contemplated by Article 34.1.6 of the BDP Constitution and subsequently, I hereby suspend you with immediate effect as a member of the Party’’, Masisi wrote in his letter to Mabaila.
Mabaila will have to attend a disciplinary hearing within 60 days and might be expelled from the party, dashing his hopes of representing the BDP at the general elections for the Mogoditshane constituency. And like the fabled Icarus, Mabaila’s hopes and political wings were clipped before he could learn to fly. For those watching, the abrupt end to this over confident play, is a cautionary tale in the ruling party’s unprecedented and progressively messy power struggle.