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5 Court of Appeal judges weighs-in on the principal residence saga

A Court of Appeal (CoA) panel of five judges; Justices Isaac Lesetedi, Monametsi Gaongalelwe, Leatile Dambe, Singh Walia and Zibani Makhwade have weighed in on the controversial issue of determining the principal residence of electorates in Botswana.

The Judges concurred with Justice Walia when delivering the oral arguments in court this week in Gaborone that this principal residence issue is only unique to Botswana as many Batswana have more than one residencies. “This is only peculiar to Botswana. In the context of Botswana, there is always been more than 1 residents, hence emphasize of a principal residence,” he said. 

He continued: “remember we are dealing with what principal residence means. What are the guidelines of determining a principal residence? Is it just a matter of occupation? What did the law giver intend to do? If you have more than one, you then go for the principal one, and what does that mean?”  

The matter came after one Mothusi States Maribe appealed a High Court ruling in the principal residence case which was in favour of Sefhare/Ramokgonami legislator Dorcas Makgatho. The objection in essence is that Makgato is not registered at her “principal residence” with the meaning and context of section 67 (3) a. of the constitution. Maribe, the objector has queried the registration of Makgato as an electorate on the basis that she has registered at Bobedi in Chadibe while her principal residence is Gaborone where she is staying permanently because of work.

The appeal came as a result of the High Court ruling recently that voters are entitled to select which one of their several residences, as it’s a norm in Botswana, they deem most important for purposes of registration for elections. “Therefore the appeal comes subsequent to the Court a quo’s decision to interpret the word ‘residence’ and to further decide that voters with more than one residence are entitled at law to choose which residence they prefer to in registering for elections,” the lower court, had ruled.

The grounds of appeal for Maribe is that the High Court has misdirected itself and erred in law and in fact in determining in Makgato case that principal residence basically means a voter’s most important place of residence.  Maribe also, in the appeal, queries the Judges conclusion that: “the principal residence under section 67 (3) of the constitution means that prospective voters are entitled to select which one of their several residences they deem most important for purposes of registering for elections.”

He also stated in the court papers that the High Court also erred in law and in fact by determining that it is the voter who at the end of the day elects which one amongst Makgato’s residences, she considers to be principal residence for purposes of registering for the elections.
According to the court papers, the appeal is also centered around the court a quo judges’ erring in law by determining that Makgato has clearly established through her affidavit, her historical, social, cultural sentimental and family bonds and that explains why she registered to vote thereafter.

“They also erred at law and in fact in determining that Makgato is a parliamentary candidate when same does not appear ex facie the pleadings,” Maribe through lawyer maintained in the court papers. He is also appealing the ruling that although section 10 (3) of the Electoral Act empowers the registration officer to determine the entitlement of the prospective voter at any particular polling station, in the case of a voter having more than one residence, such a determination would entirely depend on the voter’s preference.

In the heads of argument, attorney representing the appellant (Maribe), Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners submitted that the constitutional requirements of section 67(3) a. of the constitution of Botswana, at simple, to register at the principal residence, and must be found to mean what it means. “Having more than one residence, you will register and be allowed to register only at your principal residence, and not any place of your choice,” Dingake pointed out in the papers.

He continued to point out that it must be emphasized that the place where one feels most connected to, historically, socially, culturally, sentimentally or even where their family arises cannot be a factor used to determine their principal residence. “It therefore remains to be a place where a prospective voter mostly reside or where she spends most of her time,” he maintained in the heads. 

The attorney stressed that therefore a prospective voter, in this instance Makgato, cannot therefore elect which of her several residences she would prefer registering at for elections as that would mean that they are usurping and acting contrary to the role of the registration officer as empowered by section 10 (3) of the Electoral Act. In reply, the respondents (Makgato)’s lawyer, Simwe Petuho Mwinya who is a senior partner at Kebabonye Mwinya attorneys then highlighted that constricting electorates (Makgato) their right to vote in a place of necessity is against the public interest.

“I therefore submit that the application of the literal rule will result in the deterioration of the ‘true intent and spirit’ of the constitution. This affecting Makgato, the public at large and the future generations,” he stated.  He further said that the current socio-economic context in 2019 is quite different from the time that the constitution was written, or better yet, amended. “The law is ever evolving to suit the people in the time that they are living, thus it can be concluded that the purpose of the law is to represent the spirit of the people living in that time,” Mwinya explained.

It is the Mwinya’s submission that the right to vote which in this jurisdiction is granted and defined by the constitution, is so fundamental that a broad and liberal interpretation must be given to it. He stressed: “it is therefore our submission that the courts’ interpretation should be tied to a person’s state of mind with respect to where that person regards as ‘home.’ Where they have a social interest.”  According to the attorney, the essence of people returning to their home villages is to choose the person who would in their eyes would enrich and better the village and the community as a whole.

“Restricting a person’s right to vote to their ‘principal residence’ using the literal rule of statutory interpretation, would limit their right to vote in constricting them to that particular place, bettering the constituency of another at the detriment of the place they regard as home,” he highlighted. Thus, he added that taking away their right to contribute to the development of their village which is in essence what voting is, is wrong. 

“A person voting in a place that they do not regard as home but have instead made it a residency should not constitute a vote more especially where their right to vote is needed, indeed where they believe that they are from, the place they call home,” he concluded.  
Meanwhile, the 5 empaneled CoA Judges then reserved a ruling to the 23rd August 2019.

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

6th December 2021
Justice Ian Kirby

The outgoing President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, shares his thoughts with us as he leaves the Bench at the end of this year.

WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Civil society could rescue Botswana’s flawed democracy’ 

6th December 2021
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Botswana’s civil society is one of the non-state actors that could save the country’s democracy from sliding into regression, a Germany based think tank has revealed.  This is according to a discussion paper by researchers at the German Development Institute who analysed the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes In Botswana.

In the paper titled “E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes,” the researchers offer a strongly worded commentary on Botswana’s ‘flawed democracy.’  The authors noted that with Botswana’s Parliament structurally – and in practice – feeble, the potential for checks and balances on executive power rests with the judiciary.

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Bangwato at loggerheads over Moshupa trip

6th December 2021

Bangwato in Serowe — where Bamagwato Paramount Chief and former President Lt. Gen Ian Khama originates – disagree on whether they must send a delegation to dialogue with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s family in Moshupa. Just last week, a meeting was called by the Regent of Bamagwato, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, at Serowe Kgotla to, among others, update the tribe on the whereabouts of their Kgosi (Khama). 

Further, his state of health was also discussed, with Kgamane telling the attendees that all is well with Khama. The main reason for the meeting was to deliberate on the escalating tension between Khama and Masisi — a three-year bloodletting going unabated.

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