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The return of Autlwetse

RAISING HIS HAND: Autlwetse

Having risen through the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ranks at a young age, Thabo Autlwetse’s promising political career was dealt a body blow in 2017.

Along with eight other turks, Autlwetse received a two-year suspension by the then President Ian Khama for bringing the party into disrepute.

He resigned immediately to join opposition Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), in what proved to be a fleeting relationship.

Within a year, with Khama no longer at the helm, Autlwetse retraced his steps back to the ruling party.

Now settled and looking forward with renewed vigour, the Serowe native is eyeing a position in the BDP Central Committee. He fields questions from Voice reporter, Kabelo Dipholo.

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You’ve been a BDP diehard from a very young age. Take us back to your early days as a member of the ruling party. Where did it all start?

I joined BDP in the early 2000s as a student activist. Initially I was just assisting a friend who had undertaken to contest SRC elections.

It just so happened that he was GS 26 [BDP’s UB structure] so it was by chance that it was a BDP campaign I found myself involved in.

I picked interest from there and continued with GS 26. Strangely that friend is now prominent in opposition politics, as are many that were active youth activists for the BDP then.

Though I was from a family that had active members of the party, I had up until the moment I started assisting with GS 26 been disinterested in partisan politics.

I was encouraged by friends to sustain active participation. Subsequently I contested and won SRC elections and that began my chapter in political leadership.

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While a member of the UB SRC, I was introduced to Gomolemo Motswaledi, who immediately played the role of a mentor and introduced me to politics beyond campus walls.

I, along with other student activists he had selected, started speaking at rallies around the country that he was invited to.

It was through his encouragement that I started to contest elections in the mainstream party structures starting as Village Ward Secretary, quickly ascending to the position of Gaborone Central Branch Secretary.

This was at a time when Motswaledi himself was parliamentary candidate for the party in that constituency.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Khama slaps you with a two-year suspension, leading to you jumping ship to BMD. Why were you suspended?

There was a period in time that became a dark period in the history of the party and that is something that I have said before.

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BMD itself was born of that period. The threat of inequity loomed over nearly everyone, including a whole Vice President!

Thankfully he was able to navigate the storm until he was sworn in to deliver party and state and usher in a new light.

Myself and other constitutionalists during that specific period in time failed to navigate the storm and found ourselves on the wrong end of a game of interests.

My suspension was as a result of my commitment to constitutionality. That is the short story.

You weren’t away for long, retracing your steps after a year. What prompted your return to the party that dumped you?

I had the opportunity to sit down with His Excellency. He spoke from the heart and about a BDP that I identified with.

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You do not need much convincing to return when you get that level of assurance.

I knew first-hand what it meant for the organisation to deviate from its values and wanted to be part of the restoration process.

President Masisi leads a revolutionary agenda and there is something in me that is drawn to such an agenda.

My sources tell me you’ve raised your hand for the Deputy Secretary General (DSG) position. Why should people elect you at the coming congress?

Yes, it is true that I have raised my hand. That I can confirm. That is just a declaration of interest, nothing more.

I will at the appropriate time put forward a value proposition that is aligned to what the leadership have already envisioned for the party.

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We have to appreciate first and foremost that leadership is a collective and any effort has to be in line with the overall vision.

What I have been told by those keen on my candidacy is that institutional knowledge is something I have in abundance.

I have covered all levels of internal party leadership from the grassroots right through to national structures.

I have a good rapport with young people whom we can agree are generally the most disconnected from processes.

There is a generational gap that needs bridging and I am in agreement with those that feel a profile like my own would do no harm.

Are you on any lobby list?

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I am not aware of the existence of any lobby lists so far. What we have had is individuals declaring interest.

Whether that will change we will have to wait and see.

You’ve been a BDP member under both Khama and Masisi. How would you describe the two men?

I can’t claim to know either too well. I’m generally shy of being around leadership incessantly and believe part of the problems we have today began with this culture of people crowding the leader’s space.

I generally observe from a distance and engage only when I am engaged.

I don’t know if I should make any deductions from the fact that I have had two very different yet very defining engagements with the two gentlemen, where one without consideration served a suspension letter and went to speak on the matter in a public gathering before it was heard and the other had the courtesy to invite me into his home to have a cordial discussion on his vision for this country.

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The two men are very different quite apparently; without doing injustice to the other I believe I am allowed to say I prefer President Masisi’s way of doing things!

From the results of the 2019 General Elections, it is apparent the BDP have lost their stronghold, being the central region. Is the BDP still a factor in the central region?

The BDP is a factor in Botswana because its priority is the advancement of the lives of all Batswana.

I’m not a believer in this theory of strongholds. The UDC had assumed it would win Gaborone, look what happened.

It’s actually healthy for our democracy to have an open minded electorate. The Central District will, like all other areas of the country, be a competitive space come elections.

I don’t want to think politics of tribal affiliations have much room in the society we are building.

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We have seen the complacency of representatives bunking parliament and not attending to public gatherings or to their constituents’ needs because of the comfort that comes with blind loyalty.

We need a mindset change all round, Central District included.

But can the BDP realistically still win in Serowe?

The BDP is very much alive in Serowe.

I personally expect the party to win back all three constituencies with ease!

Do you believe there’s still no alternative?

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There is no alternative without a doubt – especially now with the supposed alternative looking like our problems from the past.

The BDP as an organisation has never been in a stronger position.

Lastly, is there a chance President Masisi and Khama will reconcile?

President Masisi is on record saying he is open to dialogue.

His door is open to all. I would not be surprised if some day it comes to pass that a meeting between the two men materializes and the outcome is positive.

But that is within the scope of the President engaging citizens as he does on a daily basis and not a matter of national priority.

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