The name Lotty Manyapetsa is synonymous with Botswana’s rhetoric politics. He cut his teeth as a fierce critic of the ruling party. At first he was with the Botswana National Front and then later joined the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
His oratory skills gave him a huge mileage among his political peers. He spared no BDP cadre ridiculing with his sharp tongue anyone from a foot-soldier to the highest ranked. But as they say, there are no permanent foes in politics just as in business.
It came as a big shock though when he dumped the BCP in 2015 to join a party he had sworn on numerous occasions that he would never associate with. Some labeled his move a capture by politics of the belly – he was securing his future. He would care little about such insinuations.
Fast forward to 2019! After one of the ugliest political contest this country has ever seen, in which he starred prominently though not contesting for any position, Manyapetsa finally got his reward. He was nominated as special elected councilor for Gaborone and ultimately – whether it was though his own lobbying or a deliberate gesture from his political Lords – he landed deputy Mayor’s position. Giving him more clout is the fact that he is the chairperson of the BDP’s Gaborone region.
That is why some thought he would be voted the mayor but Manyapetsa was quick to quash that ahead of the elections for the position.
“I will be dangerously ambitious to think I can be mayor ahead of Father Maphongo who has vast experience in both public and private sector while I have never had any formal employment or experience on administrative issues so I know my limitations,” he said at the time.
Manyapetsa, who is not shy to acknowledge his academic limitations, said one of the reasons he managed to survive the harsh political environment is because he knows his boundaries.
As the deputy Mayor of the capital city, the militant and sometimes rabble rousing politician, will have to up his game in order to prove that he is a true leader.
“I am very lucky to be working with Father Maphongo as his deputy because he comes with a very rich experience of working for government and the private sector. The two months I have worked with him I have learnt a lot,” said Manyapetsa in an interview.
Manyapetsa, whose political trajectory has not been a smooth one, stated that he has a lot to learn from Maphongo and as such he doesn’t harbour any ambitions of challenging him.
Born and bred in the BNF home where his parents were very active cadres of the party, Manyapetsa joined politics by mistake.
“My mother was a ward secretary for the party and I used to help her to take minutes during meetings and read them. I then started helping in setting up the public address system before political rallies,” he narrated jokingly, adding that due to his deep voice he then joined the party choir.
It was the late maverick and militant Paul Rantao whom Manyapetsa credits for discovering his political talent, especially as a public speaker.
His political baptism was in 1993 during the Mahalapye Congress where resolution was taken to boycott the 1994 elections because government refused to reform the electoral system or reduce the voting age from 21.
“We took a decision that we were going to the bush and train as guerilla soldiers and Nehemiah Modubule was going to train us! But Kenneth Koma asked us if we had guns and if so we should put them on the table! He also asked which bush we were going to use for training,” he dramatically explained and said Koma’s words dampened their spirits.
In 1994 BNF performed exceptionally well garnering 13 seats and forcing the BDP to consider the electoral reforms.
The electoral fortunes of the BNF turned to be bad omen for the party as it was soon riddled with factions leading to its painful split in 1998.
“I was part of the Concerned Group led by Klaas Motshidisi and Billy Makuku who by then were expelled from the party and we wanted their expulsion discussed at the congress but the leadership had none of it,” he explained.
It was then under the leadership of Reggie Reatile who was the Head of Intelligence for BNF to ensure the congress didn’t go ahead.
“A day before the congress, Reatile positioned us well at the hall ready to disrupt the congress and the strategy worked well,” he said as he burst into laughter.
After the split they remained with the BNF and it was only in 2002 that the people they supported in 1998 turned against Koma and wanted Otsweletse Moupo.
“It was then that we took a decision to leave the BNF together with the late Koma to form New Democratic Front (NDF) which was led by Dick Bayford and I was the president of the Youth League,” he recalled.
NDF didn’t do well in the 2004 general elections as they didn’t even get on councilor. “I was the only candidate with the highest number garnering 207 votes for the party,” he said, laughing off.
The road to BCP
The dismal performance of the NDF in the 2004 elections led to the party coiling their tail and joining the BCP as a group member.
“This is where my political career grew in leaps and bounds and was one of the fierce critics of the BDP and its leadership,” he said.
Manyapetsa held various positions within the BCP; the highest being the President of the Youth League and later tried his luck for the Organising Secretary where he was humbled by Vain Mamela.
“It was at the Kanye congress in 2015 that I realised that the BCP unlike BDP and BNF didn’t belong to the masses but certain people and if you’re not in that circle you won’t progress further in the party,” he revealed.
He also realised that he has been focusing on the party and neglecting his future and that of his children.
“I was campaigning for people to win elections but had nothing to show except party regalia and being always praised for being militant during rallies but on the other side my age mates were progressing in life,” he explained with sombre face.
He explained that most politicians will never advise their foot soldiers to develop themselves and utilise government programmes as that will compromise their campaign.
“Look at me for the years that I have been regarded as one of the militant politicians who can take political opponents head on – what do I have to show? Nothing!” he said throwing his hands in the air.
Defection to BDP
Manyapetsa shocked man, even within the ruling party, when it was announced that he had resigned from the BCP and joining the BDP. For the first time he opened up about his decision to join the ruling party.
“It was a very painful decision to make and I will toss and turn during the night and sometimes even cry for the decision I had made but had to live with it,” he explained.
He credited President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who by then was the Vice President and party chairman, for making his arrival and stay in the BDP comfortable. He revealed that President Masisi showed him the positive side of life and that he must focus on self-empowerment.
“Imagine joining the people that I had insulted during political rallies while some I have mocked; it was not easy even for them to easily welcome me,” he confessed.
Advice to the youth
Being someone who has gone through party structures from a younger age, Manyapetsa said, he has seen it all, especially the exploitation of the party foot soldiers.
“Young people must focus on their education and self-empowerment and not start as being choir members and foot soldiers only being paid by food and party regalia,” he advised.
He said they must be ambitious and aim higher rather than being praise singers for their leaders who are living opulent lifestyle whilst they wallow in poverty. He called on all political parties to have party schools where young members of the respective parties can be schooled on the party policies and programmes.