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The Dalai Lama no show: Who is fooling who?

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There is more than meets the eye in the way His Holiness Dalai Lama cancelled his controversial trip to Botswana – allegedly due to ill health. Contrary to the official version from Dalai Lama’s private office, The Midweek Sun can reveal that miles away from this country, the Tibetan spiritual leader is continuing to honour his tight schedule. Not only does this evoke many questions, but speculation as well.

Among these are whether there was double booking, or was the Dalai Lama’s change of heart influenced by the small number of tickets that were bought for his event. Only 100 people are said to have bought the tickets. While Dalai Lama’s followers bought tickets with the hope of physically meeting him, they had a shock of their lives on Saturday when a public statement from his private office allegedly sent to both President Lt. Gen. Dr Ian Khama and the Mind & Life Dialogue – organisers of the event – advised that he would no longer make the trip due to exhaustion.

But surprisingly, on Monday August 14, 2017 two days before he was set to arrive in Botswana in a trip that was vehemently opposed by the Chinese government, Dalai Lama, who looked healthy, took to the podium to deliver the inaugural address at the launch of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) course on Secular Ethics at the TISS Convention Centre in Mumbai, India. The previous day, he had addressed the Interfaith Dialogue in Mumbai, Maharashla, India at the National Sports Council of India Dome in an address that lasted for 34 minutes.

At TISS, he spoke for close to an hour before taking his seat to continue with taking questions on secular ethics from the floor. In between the two parts of his address, he received different types of appreciation tokens. Throughout the address by organisers and other speakers, Dalai Lama kept on tapping his hand on the seat, when he took to the podium, he was just his usual jolly self, cracking jokes and laughing. In his usual trade mark style, he took his time sufficiently answering all the questions from his audience.

In his cancellation message, Lama says: “I was very much looking forward to coming to Africa again and visiting your country. I was especially interested in taking part in discussions of Ubuntu, which I feel reflects my fundamental belief that we are all interdependent and need to conduct ourselves with a sense of universal responsibility. “Despite my absence, I am urging the conference organisers to continue with their plans, to hold valuable discussion and publish the results.” Examining African values and healing practices in light of new scientific research on social connection and trauma, the Mind & Life Dialogue in Botswana explores the potential of Botho/Ubuntu as a framework for healing the legacy and trauma of wars and colonialism, and advancing social justice and women’s equality.

The last minute cancellation has no doubt hit hard on personnel and organisations that were involved in organising his trip as they either had to cancel some events or offer refunds for those that had bought tickets. Mind & Life Dialogue noted that the conference will continue as planned, but stated that instructions for refunds will be provided directly to ticket holders by the email address that was used to register. Speaking to this publication, Donald Molosi BlueBlack Productions, who had arranged a private concert by veteran South African musician, Vusi Mahlasela for the 100 people who bought the tickets, said the concert has been cancelled and Mahlasela will just render a musical piece during the conference.Playing along Mahlasela was going to be local stars Tomeletso Sereetsi, Punah Gabasiane and Kabo Leburu. On why Dalai Lama is still continuing with his schedule while he is reported to have been asked to rest for health reasons, a statement issued by Ngodup Dorjee, a representative of Dalai Lama for Africa ,states that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to cancel visiting Gaborone, Botswana for the Mind & Life conference as in the past few weeks, he has found himself unusually tired in carrying out his activities and felt a strong need to take rest. “His physicians have also advised him to avoid undertaking long journeys for the next few weeks, however, it was agreed that he would finish his current programme in Mumbai, India and then return to Dharamsala for rest and recuperation.” In what is a blow to those who had hoped to at least hear from other prominent speakers, Graca Machel has also dropped out of being part of the Mind & Life conference. There was no official announcement from the organisers at the time of going to press. But on Monday night, Machel was removed from the official website.

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Mma V’s retreat is strategic

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Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Presidential aspirant Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi is playing her cards close to her chest to ease tension between President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and herself ahead of the BDP’s elective congress that has the presidential election as part of its agenda.

This was evident at the BDP National Retreat in Palapye this past weekend when Dr Venson-Moitoi, who is a former cabinet member, made a U-turn on her earlier statement that Dr Masisi had promised her the position of Vice President.

Dr Venson-Moitoi had a week before the retreat told Mmegi in an interview that she had a legitimate expectation as Dr Masisi had promised her the vice presidency. According to sources close to the former longest serving minister, Dr Venson-Moitoi made the U-turn at the Palapye International Convention Centre (PICC) so as to ease tension between the president and herself to avoid a further deterioration in their relationship.

The sources pointed out that as the president seems to be going all out to punish and frustrate those who are against him, Dr Venson-Moitoi would not want to have her campaign for the high position compromised.

Dr Venson-Moitoi revealed at the retreat that she did have a conversation with the president on what she would want to do or to be under Masisi. She however told the delegates that she never said Dr Masisi promised her the VP position. “I told him that now that I would be retiring, I would like to be his vice president. He said he would look into it but never promised me the position,” she said acknowledging Dr Masisi’s choice – Slumber Tsogwane.

Dr Venson-Moitoi’s statement came after a backlash from Dr Masisi who told the democrats that he never promised anyone the position of Vice President. The president said he never did that and would never do that even in future.

He revealed that he appointed Tsogwane his deputy ten (10) minutes before the BDP Parliamentary Caucus. “Of course some people came to me requesting that I make them my vice president. I listened because I am a good listener. So, when adults do talk to me, I listen and will continue to listen but I never promised anyone anything.

“If there is someone here who knows for a fact that I did make that promise, I challenge them to come here and say when, where and how such a promise was made. Even beyond 2019 I have not promised anyone anything. When you choose your deputy, you must choose a good reliable deputy,” the president stated.

For the first time in its history, the BDP will go for presidential elections this year a few months before the national polls. Traditionally, the party would converge at an extraordinary congress where the president would be endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate for General Elections.

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Death does not scare me – Masisi

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ALWAYS NEARBY: DIS boss Peter Magosi was always within touching distance of the president amid heightened security threats

At the height of the well-pronounced disunity within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), fears abound that the life of President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi is under threat.

However, such reports come a long way, from as early as when he was Vice President during which time he survived food poisoning and a plane crash that killed two army officers just before he was to be transported in the aircraft.

The intelligence and related reports suggesting that the president could be assassinated grow everyday, and those close to the presidential security personnel say there are several factors on the ground pointing to the tension that engulfs the first citizen. The president himself on Saturday alluded to the reported security threats around his life, but was quick to say he was not afraid to die. He said there are people who have been telling him that they fear for his life and that he should be careful.

“I met some business people from whom we have been seeking donations and they said they were afraid for my safety. I told them I don’t waste my time thinking that I am going to die. It is certain I am going to die. All of us are going to die,” he told the BDP delegates at the party’s retreat in Palapye on Saturday.

Despite the utterances by the president, the situation on the ground told a different story. Security that manned the entire Majestic Five Hotel was super intense, lending credence to earlier reports that suggested the presidential security arm was also worried by the death threats reported by the party’s warring factions. Even as he publicly said he was not afraid to die, the president would not allow any slight mistake even among people that could be said to be his trusted fellows within the party.

This was the second time BDP converged at Majestic Five Hotel since Dr Masisi became president last year April. The first was on the 11 of August 2018 when the party held a meeting following the postponement of its primary elections. Even though security presence was very visible then, it could not match the one deployed this past Saturday.So intense was the security this weekend that even the head of intelligence, Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) Director Peter Magosi was present at the retreat – an unusual thing as junior officers at DIS are often deployed wherever the president is.

Brigadier Magosi was never out of sight of the president, ensuring he did not delegate this assignment to any of his officers. Magosi has been criticised for this arrangement but the spy chief has made it clear that the safety of the head of state is one of his key responsibilities. “Masisi seems to trust only Magosi and with some members within the DIS still seen to be loyal to the previous DIS boss and former president, Magosi is forced to lead Masisi’s security from the head as he is deemed the best person to quickly detect anything from his knowledge of the officers,” a BDP source shared.

Some sources even suggest that through their alleged ownership of some spy equipment, former DIS boss Isaac Kgosi and former president Ian Khama still have visual and audio access to the State House, a situation that has resulted in Masisi refusing to use the place until he is sure it is cleared of all spy equipment. It is no secret that both Kgosi and Khama are at loggerheads with Masisi whom they feel is out to harass them.

But it is unclear who could be targeting the president, a matter seen to be a covert operation yet to be unmasked. The weekend’s retreat venue in Palapye had three search points – at the main gate where all motor vehicles were searched by police and Botswana Defence Force officers; and two other points manned by BDP officials and Security Systems’ officers where democrats had to show proof that they were delegates for the retreat.

It was during this search that some South African nationals were reportedly arrested by Serowe Police after being found in possession of a firearm. The party also ensured that only party members with accreditation entered the premises and the hall and the accreditation was done at Lotsane Secondary School instead of the hall where the retreat was held.

An altercation even ensued in one of the checkpoints when veteran politician and member of the BDP Labour Committee Kgang Kgang got in a heated argument with Mbakisano Tjiyapo, a member of the Communications and International Relations Committee, for failing to produce his accreditation. Kgang also contested BDP primaries for Mogoditshane constituency in January last year and lost to Tshepang Mabaila who has since been suspended from the party for five years.

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