Gaborone - The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has split ahead of general elections slated for October with former President Ian Khama announcing he was quitting the party.
Khama, who is the paramount chief of Bangwato tribe, informed his audience in his home village of Serowe that he was quitting the ruling party because his relationship with his chosen successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, had broken down irreparably.
Serowe village, which forms part of the Central District, is a stronghold of the BDP. Khama said he has not taken a decision yet as to which party he intends to join but announced that he would support the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) which is a splinter of the BDP and formed by members who are sympathetic to him.
Khama said the new party will have legislator Guma Moyo, who was fired from BDP, and former Assistant Minister of Health Biggie Butale, who was suspended from the ruling party and quit recently as its members.
Khama said he was fed up with the BDP which was founded by his father and former President Sir Seretse Khama in the 1960s.
"I'm here to let you know that I'm quitting the BDP. I no longer want anything to do with the BDP and I want it to be toppled from power," he said.
According to Khama, he has taken a decision to support independent candidates who are former members of the BDP and some opposition candidates to ensure that the BDP is removed from power.
Khama claimed that since his chosen successor took over as the president of the BDP, the party was no longer what it used to be. Therefore, he said, he would travel across the country to sell the new party and assist opposition candidates. He called on his supporters to start wearing blue and black colour to show their solidarity and support for the new party.
Speaking at the same event, Butale said he had also quit because he was ill-treated . Butale, who had lost the BDP primaries, was charged with bringing the party into disrepute after he had taken it to court challenging the primary election results. According to Butale, the new party had been registered and he called on supporters to sell it across the country.
Khama's decision to quit the BDP, which has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1966, is expected to throw the party into disarray ahead of the October polls.
But President Masisi, who has since publicly announced that his relationship with his predecessor has broken down irreparably, remains adamant that his party will perform well. Speaking, a day after Khama announced he was quitting, and during a launch of his Vice President Slumber Tsogwane as a candidate for Boteti constituency in eastern Botswana, Masisi called on BDP supporters to ignore what Khama said about their party. He called on citizens to guard against utterances that border on tribalism saying such actions could divide the nation. He was referring to Khama's supporters' decision to wear T-shirts emblazoned with Khama's portrait captioned "hands off our paramount chief".
He said looking at their plans in their manifesto, his party remains the best and suitable party to continue ruling Botswana.
Masisi called on members of his party to remain focused and united despite the current challenges it was encountering. He said Batswana were known as peaceful and therefore they should remain as such.
"We should always remember what the founders of this party once warned us about; that it is only its members who can destroy it. So if there are those who are bent on destroying it let's pray for them," said Masisi.
Masisi added that he "appreciates the love, support and confidence that BDP supporters have in me as their leader to take them forward as a party".
He said those who intended to quit the party should do so without bringing it into disrepute adding that the party was an institution that was bigger than an individual.