Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

13 February 2009

Botswana: Nasha the BDP 'Iron Lady', the New BDP Kingpin

Palapye — Since its formation, just like any other political formation in Botswana, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) could not escape the stark realities of existing in the context of a patriarchal society.

In a patriarchal society men rule and the duty of women is to submit. Over the years the men have had a domineering influence in almost all BDP structures, creating the impression that political power is a man's preserve.

As for the poor womenfolk their participation largely limited their roles to fund-raising, singing, cheering, ululating and cooking. To a larger extent, even voting for the menfolk.

From time immemorial it fell on the shoulders of men to shape the political fortunes of the BDP and other political organisations. For instance, in the formative years the BDP relied heavily on the charisma of its founding father - the late Sir Seretse Khama. When Seretse died in July 1980, Daniel Kwelagobe rose to the occasion to become the party's leading political ideologue. 'Dan' or 'DK' as he is affectionately called, earned himself the title 'BDP strongman'. Kwelagobe's 'partner in crime' was to be retired Kebatlamang Morake. Whenever, the party or its president was under siege (facing opposition onslaught) it was the responsibility of the duo to rescue the party.

Of late, Kwelagobe appears to have gone on the quieter side of things (in terms of politicking). That being the case Dr Margaret Nasha - a woman, seems to be filling Kwelagobe's boots and with a distinct performance. Nasha's role as the BDP kingpin became apparent at an event to launch a leadership training manual held in Palapye last Saturday.

Nasha is at the helm of the party's Political Education and Election Committee (PEEC). This role is not an ordinary one by any measure. To assume a role that appears to be very critical to the fortunes of the party, Nasha, as a woman, is surely rewriting the history and traditions of the BDP.

Nasha's committee is charged with, among other things, the daunting task of preparing the party for the forthcoming general elections. How the party will fare in the elections will largely depend on the work Nasha's abilities as a political strategist has put up.

As the new BDP kingpin, Nasha's political prowess was to be put to the test at the official launch of the Leadership Training Manual, otherwise known as Domkrag Kgomo ya Motswana. True to character, she proved equal to the task. Delivering a keynote address at the launch she did not only content herself with unveiling the leadership manual but delved into serious politicking.

She was thorough on every subject she chose to deal with. As she delivered her speech it was evident that her rise to the position of head of the PEEC was no accident. Her charisma, fearlessness, robustness, knowledge of the subject matter and not forgetting her humorous side, said it all. Here is a woman poised to 'revolutionise' the BDP campaign strategy.

Unveiling the new BDP campaign strategy she observed, "the freedom square as a tool for canvassing is proving to be wanting and inadequate." She noted that the party was alive to the reality that not all people find open rallies appealing. Hence she implored BDP diehards to explore alternative routes of reaching out on the potential voter who may find a freedom square less attractive. Nasha raised a concern about the quality of campaign itself. Candidates were urged to run a campaign based on issues. Trivialities such as "mmago o kile a lowa (your mother was once a sorcerer) will no longer be entertained, she advised the members.

In what appeared a rarity in politics she openly confessed that the BDP is an "ailing party."

"Like any other party the BDP has its fair share of problems," she thundered like a preacher on the pulpit. The grey areas were cited as growing incidences of ill-discipline, collapse of party structures as well as tiffs emanating from Bulela Ditswe primaries as symptoms of an ailing party. "Banna wee, a re berekeng!" Loosely translated, this could mean, colleagues, let's work very hard.

Issues of discipline were bound to occur since the party has a following of 476,000 members. She added that the party's primary elections had the undesirable effect of polarising the membership, but she urged the faithful to bury the hatchet and embrace one another to prepare for the October general elections from a position of strength. One of the party parliamentary candidates made a candid admission when he was heard whispering behind the media desk in the hall: "Nasha o bua jaaka monna waitse! (Nasha speaks like a man)" which is rare in a patriarchal society.

In defence of President Ian Khama, Nasha put on a sterling performance. She appealed to members to feel duty bound to defend the president. "We must all defend our president as the party cannot afford the luxury of allowing the opposition to reduce our president to a punching bag." Her performance on the podium could have left a lot of her male-dominated top table green with envy, considering her performance. Certainly, this was not a once off performance

It is usually not what Nasha says that sets her far apart from the ordinary Motswana woman politician. It is how she conducts her political business that makes her the darling of her followers. She is never shy to take men head on when the need arises, nor does she ever run short of political jokes that keep her listeners attentive throughout.

In her quest to become the BDP secretary general, at the height of the BDP factional wars, she challenged Kwelagobe at a congress and elections in Serowe four years ago when very few dared it. Kwelagobe then was almost 'untouchable'. Her Central Committee defeat came at a time when Nasha wanted to redeem herself after losing the Gaborone Central constituency to BCP's Dumelang Saleshando.

Nasha is not contesting any constituency but she remains a valuable member of the party by any standard. She left a packed community hall in stitches last Saturday when she dismissed one of the opposition parties' quest to field women to challenge BDP male politicians.

She shouted in the vernacular, "banna lo ba je batho bao. Mme e bile ka lo bajele ga ntsi ntsi se sesha ke eng?" She accused opposition parties for fielding women in areas that are predominantly BDP strongholds, saying the whole thing was tantamount to abuse of such women, as they will not win anyway.

A member of the BDP Central Committee responsible for the Tswapong region, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who is also Communications, Science and Technology Minister was frustrated that Nasha has opted not to contest for the elections this time around.

"Ga a setse a re ga a eme jaana, ga re itse gore fa batho ba golola tsa bone ditsenwa rona re tla golola se fe setsenwa. Nnananyana (Nasha) re itse a ntse jalo," Venson-Moitoi hinted on Nasha's political mettle.

This in itself coming from a fellow cabinet member speaks a lot about Nasha's calibre and value as a politician.

Before joining active politics, Nasha served in the civil service and on her exit she was the director of the then Information and Broadcasting. She joined the BDP in 1978. In 1994, she became Specially Elected MP and in 1999, she ousted BCP's Michael Dingake from Gaborone Central as an MP. After her loss in 1999, she was specially elected again.

In defence of Khama, Nasha says people can love or hate him but he is the leader of the BDP and state president.

Nasha's latest manoeuvres have even caught the attention of the Mmegi cartoonist, who yesterday showed her holding an arrow and a shield with Khama behind her in a true spirit of defending the leader. "...Behind every ferocious defender, there is ...Malwelakgosi." To those in the know, Nasha who is retiring from representative politics might be aiming for something somewhere, where she feels the leadership would appreciate her contribution and possibly appoint her an ambassador or a position equivalent to that.

Nasha laughed off the cartoon, but it is evident that it is time for 'Emang Basadi'. Men watch out.

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