Botswana political parties commemorate inaugural ANC exile conference

By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and opposition Botswana National Front (BNF), in collaboration with South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), will commemorate the latter’s first exile conference that was held in Botswana in 1962.

Dubbed the ‘1962 Lobatse conference’, the historic event was reportedly the first conference of the ANC to be held in exile in Lobatse town in Botswana after the party was banned by apartheid government in 1962. The commemorations were expected to be held from 25-27 August this year.

BDP’s secretary-general Mpho Balopi said the commemoration would coincide with his party’s 55 anniversary celebration. The joint celebration is expected to be held in Serowe in central Botswana.

“We have invited the ANC because they are our friends. When the BDP was formed in 1962, it was the same year that the ANC was banned in South Africa by the apartheid regime,” he said.

Balopi said the party deserved to celebrate the milestone and saw the need to invite the ANC whom they have strong relations which dated back to the era of apartheid.

“We shall be celebrating our 55th anniversary in Serowe jointly with the ANC. The celebration is usually in February, but due to our calendar of events we had to push it forward. We invited the ANC in April and expect senior representation from the party including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe,” Balopi said.

Balopi said the decision for a joint celebration was to acknowledge and appreciate the relationship the two parties have dating from as far back as 1962 in the liberation movement.

According to Balopi, Botswana was the first country to accommodate ANC in Lobatse where the party held its first congress.

“It is this history by the liberation movement that has prompted us to invite them to our celebration. In fact, it is this relationship that we have with them that caused us to celebrate our 55th anniversary with them. As the ruling party we are proud of the part Botswana played in the journey travelled by ANC. We are proud that we still have that strong relationship with ANC as the ruling party,” said Balopi.

For his party, BNF publicity secretary Justin Hunyepa said the commemoration will be held in Lobatse town, about 78 kilometres from Gaborone.

“All opposition parties have also been invited for this historic occasion. From South Africa, the ANC and the South African Communist Party have been invited to grace the event and make speeches,” he said.

He said former BNF activist, Fish Keitseng, had assisted the ANC cadres for years in Lobatse.

“He was a member of the ANC while working in South Africa and after being deported for political reasons to Botswana, he continued to assist the ANC in the liberation struggle at his house in Lobatse. During the height of the ANC liberation struggle, Keitseng housed South African former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki at his Lobatse house,” said Hunyepa.

According to Hunyepa, in October 1962, Keitseng organised the ANC underground conference in Lobatse where the party also launched its fresh armed struggle under their military wing, Umkhoto We Sizwe, against the apartheid regime.

Keitseng died on 28 March 2005, having been a BNF councillor in Gaborone from 1989 to 1994. He has since received the Order of Luthuli House (Silver) from the South African government and his historic Lobatse house has been declared a national monument.

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