One of the opposition parties might just bag the Bophirima ward in this Saturday’s by-election, if the numbers seen at the rallies for Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) rallies are anything to go by.

Although they go into the elections a parallel lot, both the UDC and BCP pulled huge crowds when unveiling their candidates compared to the ruling BDP. After winning a total of nine wards out of the 12 since the 2019 general elections, the opposition may lose the Bophirima ward by-election to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) due to the fact that they have split themselves into two warring factions.

The divisions within the opposition ranks have come about because the two leading members of the UDC - BCP and Botswana National Front (BNF) - could not agree on which one of them should produce a candidate for the Bophirima ward by-election. This led to the BCP and the UDC each fielding a candidate. For the purposes of the by-election, the BCP, which is contesting under its own colours due to the fallout, has been joined by the Alliance for Progressives (AP) in its efforts to clinch the ward. Meanwhile, the BNF, the Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) and the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are campaigning under the UDC banner.

Even the two factions are allegedly fragmented with some of their members secretly sympathising with the opposing side with the likelihood that they may vote with the ‘opposition’ at the by-election. Reports are that some BCP MPs have defied the party leadership and will support the UDC at the expense of their own party. All the challenges notwithstanding, all contestants are confident of a win. “We are going to win by our own effort as this ward has been under the BDP for a long time. We are not banking on the UDC fights alone. Of course, the divisions in the UDC will work for us.

“There is a very strong determination within the BDP to win the ward. We have to do it for the late Kagiso Mongwaketse so that he rests in peace,” a confident BDP candidate, Onkemetse Mothei declared. The BDP's recent losses have been attributed to the failure of its government to fulfil its 2019 general election pledges. It should also be noted that there is no cohesion in the ruling party. The party has experienced instability even within its leadership. Mankie Sekete of the UDC is unfazed by her competitors including the fact that the BCP, which is a significant member of the opposition collective, will not be supporting her because the party has fielded Peter Mogapi as its candidate.

“The split of votes notwithstanding, the UDC remains very popular among the people. Not only are our rallies well attended. I also get people even from the other parties coming to my place to pledge their support,” Sekete said. The UDC candidate may benefit from the fact that more and more people believe in a united opposition particularly since the coalition has won a significant number of by-elections including wards won by the ruling party in 2019.

The fact that the AP candidate for the 2019 general elections has since joined the UDC, may improve the prospects of the coalition in the ward as he potentially takes to the UDC, 333 voters who voted him in 2019. The UDC was voted by 437 people. Meanwhile, the BDP marshalled 731 votes with 113 electing the independent candidate. The exponential growth of the BCP, which has got more MPs than all the opposition parties combined, may work for the BCP-AP axis. The BCP has endeared itself to the people through the robust debates offered by the party MPs in parliament.

However, the decision to contest outside the UDC may trigger the memories of 2014 when the BCP contested outside the Umbrella and was heavily punished by the electorate. While some observers are sympathetic to the BCP and demand for the democratisation of the UDC, they are disappointed by the decision to contest outside the Umbrella. The BCP candidate is not worried about the possibility of vote-splitting because, as Mogapi says, “The people understand who we are and what we represent. First of all, they must understand that Mankie Sekete is masquerading as a UDC candidate when she is a BNF candidate. She was imposed on the people of Bophirima by Duma Boko of the BNF.

She is not a UDC candidate,” explained Mogapi. He went on to note that people are looking for a quality candidate. “I am that quality candidate. Sekete was a specially elected councillor from 2014 to 2019. “She did nothing for the community. Perhaps the reason is that she resides elsewhere and not in this ward. This is an old ward that is primarily low cost. We need developments,” Mogapi said. He added that, “The least I talk about the BDP candidate the better. “Ke motho fela wa Modimo. She cannot represent us.”