A generation of children who were born with HIV has now grown up. Although life could not spare them the pain of stigmatisation, the turbulent period of adolescence and an altogether complicated life of having to live through medication; a bulk of them now lead normal lives.
For many born with HIV, stigma and discrimination have always been among the battles to conquer. Bakang Itumeleng Garebatho is among the many in Botswana born with HIV, at 23 years old now, he has disclosed his status and has dedicated a chunk of his time to combating HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination. Garebatho first learnt of his positive HIV status in 2002 when he was only 7 years old.
“At first I thought it was a curse or witchcraft. I'd isolate myself from the community including school because I thought it was written all over my face. Every time when I hear people talking about the virus, it would bring sorrow to my soul, bringing back memories of when i had to bury my own father at the age of 4 and my mother at the age of 7,” he said.
He, like many who have the HIV virus, underwent a harsh period of denial, and generally a trail of emotions, from hatred, self pity and depression. Though a hard pill to swallow, he would eventually come around and accepted himself. He knew by taking that step, he would be embracing himself and all the facets of his life, whether negative or positive, including his HIV status.
“Not only was I mad at my parents but at the whole family. No one was comfortable talking to me about my status which brought anger and depression in my life until I gained better knowledge of different situations and even put myself in their shoes. As of today though, I have made peace with my late parents and I long decided to start on a clean slate,” he said.
He has since founded an organisation, Sentebale Organisation. Through the organisation, he intends to reach out to HIV positive children who may fail to reach their goals because of fear as well as put an end to stigma. “We are living in an era were Stigma and Discrimination should be extinct. I decided to stand up and voice out to put an end to this. I want the coming generation to find a world full of cushions everywhere they fall. I chose this path because it has always been my dream to be a role model and advocate for those without voices. It was an opportunity for me to become what is inspiring to others,” he highlighted.
As a role model, he gets to interact with children, who like him, were born with HIV and had to disclose his status to them so they do not think less of themselves. “During camp, a group of children came to me praising me for the energy I had and my effort then ended up saying "Ha re kitla re tshwana le wena kagore rona re a lwala (We will never be like you because we are sick)" That's when I took it upon myself to disclose to them and tell them about my HIV status because they were clueless,” he said.
But Bonolo Selaledi, also 23 lived a parallel life. To her, all that mattered was waking up to find out that she had been cleansed and was free from the virus. She tried it all, including church. “In 2005 I defaulted after being prayed for by one prophet from the US who told me I was healed and I should throw medication away and even stop going for checkups. My mum obliged and she took me off my meds.
Five years later in 2010, I got sick and was admitted at Marina Hospital where tests were done and we were told the HIV virus was still in my body system. I suffered from migraine headaches. It was all too much for me, I was angry at God. I wondered why God did not want to free me, I was angry the prophet had lied to me and I lost hope,” she said.
She has struggled with issues of stigma too, just like Garebatho it has not been a breeze in the park for her. She has failed to find love as each time she has to go through the whole process of disclosing her status to partners who eventually leave. “Relationship life is not good. At the moment I am not involved because every time I disclose to a guy they leave,” she said. From her school days, she has been unfortunate as to find herself among a group not willing to overlook her status. Students would not want to associate with her because she was HIV positive.
“In 2014 I started my form4 and it was not easy as students isolated themselves from me after hearing i was admitted at S’brana and that I have HIV. Teachers started calling me names gore ke sematla ke gaisiwa ke bonnake and that I will never pass!” she recalled. Today, she lives a totally different story.
She has turned around her life and lives to help end HIV stigma and discrimination. “I am proud as I have helped a few to accept their status. The other problem is discrimination, some people end up committing suicide because they feel unwanted. That is what made me to come out to share my story as a way to end stigma and discrimination,” she said.
In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.
Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.
The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.
This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).
The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.
The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.
In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.
Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.
Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.
“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.
Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.
“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.
The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.
UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.
Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.
Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.
Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”
Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.
FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS
With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.
BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.
BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.
It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.
Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”
It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.
At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.
Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.
BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.
The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.
By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.
In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.
“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.
“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.
The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.
All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.
“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.
Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.
Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.
COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE
As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.
“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.
The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.
“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.
The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.
“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.