THE ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has appointed veteran former cabinet minister Patrick Malopi, who recently attacked President Robert Mugabe as “greedy”, as the new speake
r of parliament following its recent landslide victory in the general election.
The BDP appointed Malopi speaker despite protests from Harare against his scathing remarks about Mugabe. The move has been seen in Botswana as an act of defiance against Mugabe and his government which has been piling pressure on Gaborone over broadcasting and free speech.
Relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana have also been strained over Zimbabwe’s economic refugees flooding one of Africa’s best performing economies.
The Botswana authorities say that apart from flooding its job market and overstretching its infrastructure, the illegal immigrants were becoming a social problem.
They said Zimbabweans were illegally flocking into their country because of Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis. The Tswanas say while Zimbabweans are free to travel to their country, they must do so legally and avoid staying there permanently.
Diplomatic problems between Zimbabwe and Botswana have arisen over the latter’s controversial airbase and an American relay station operating from its territory. Zimbabwe has alleged that Botswana’s airbase is American, something Gaborone has rejected as untrue.
President Festus Mogae last year said Zimbabwe was suffering from a “crisis of governance”. His government also refused to back a Sadc statement protesting Zimbabwe’s continued suspension from the Commonwealth at the Abuja summit last year before Zimbabwe pulled out of the club of former British colonies.
The spat over Malopi’s statements has heightened tension between the two countries.
Addressing a rally recently, Malopi, who had been a minister of Home Affairs, Lands and Housing, described Mugabe as a “greedy leader who does not have the interests of his people at heart”.
Malopi said despite the fact that Mugabe had run down Zimbabwe, he “still does not want to leave office”.
This triggered an angry reaction from Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Botswana Phelekezela Mphoko who hit back accusing Balopi of being arrogant and hostile towards Mugabe.
Mphoko, who was last year accused of assaulting a Botswana journalist, wrote a strongly worded letter to Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying Balopi’s comments about Mugabe undermined the “good relations” between Harare and Gaborone. He claimed Balopi was parroting Western countries opposed to Mugabe’s land reform programme.
“Botswana and Zimbabwe enjoy very cordial relations and the relations between BDP and Zanu PF are good. The embassy is very much aware that all the criticism levelled against President Mugabe emanates from the land reform programme,” he said.
“As a result, political clowns and intellectual parasites who have nothing to offer beyond parroting designed positions have surfaced.”
Government-controlled newspapers in Zimbabwe were also mobilised to attack Balopi whose remarks in one instance were described as “stupid”.
However, the BDP refused to force Balopi to retract his comments. BDP executive secretary Botsalo Ntuane said Balopi was within his rights to criticise Mugabe.