South Africans’ involvement with Botswana’s election politics caused embarrassment once again when two planes of the controversial South African businessman, Zunaid Moti, were impounded at Francistown airport.
Moti offered his small business jet, a Beechcraft Premier 1, and an Agusta 119 helicopter for campaigning by opposition leader Duma Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
The jet and the helicopter were painted in the UDC’s colours. But the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (Burs) put a spanner in the works for the campaign flights by impounding the aircraft for alleged customs contraventions.
This upset follows shortly after Botswana also effectively banned businesswoman Bridgette Radebe, the sister-in-law of President Cyril Ramaphosa, from the country due to her support of a presidential candidate.
Moti’s lawyer, Ulrich Roux, confirmed to City Press that his client had made his aircraft available to Boko’s election campaign from last Sunday to May 2.
However, when the aircraft landed in Francistown on Wednesday, the pilots were informed that the aircraft’s use was being investigated by Burs. Waleed Helicopters is in charge of the operation of the aircraft. Their pilots are also flying the planes.
Burs said in a statement that the aircraft did not have the necessary authorisation to enter the country. One of the offences being investigated against the crew and/or Waleed Helicopters at Lanseria Airport is that the aircraft did not land at an official Botswana entry airport.
The crew apparently also did not immediately report the aircraft’s arrival to customs, the statement said.
According to Roux, the pilots were not aware of new customs requirements that had recently come into force in Botswana.
This explanation was accepted by Burs and both the aircraft and the pilots were allowed to fly back to Lanseria on Friday afternoon, Roux said.
Botswana’s political landscape has become increasingly turbulent since the retirement of former President Ian Khama who led the country for 10 years without any significant opposition candidates. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is itself involved in a bitter struggle for power.
Botswana Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, is fighting current President Mokgweetsi Masisi in the BDP’s presidential battle later this year.
Radebe is apparently financing Venson-Moitoi’s election campaign and the Botswana government is accusing her of interfering with the BDP’s party politics. The tension was so bad that South Africa’s international relations minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, visited the neighbouring country to defuse the situation.
The motivation for Moti’s support for the opposition candidate is the subject of widespread speculation in Botswana. The local media believes that Moti would benefit from the diamond industry if his candidate is successful.