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Nkaigwa’s Christian State remarks blasted

Gaborone North legislator Haskins Nkaigwa

Gaborone North legislator Haskins Nkaigwa has expressed utter disappointment at the answer he got from Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu on the declaration of Botswana as a Christian State.

Addressing the media on the sidelines of the just-ended first meeting of the second session of the 11th Parliament, Nkaigwa said that it was so unfortunate that the minister could not comprehend his question, hence submitting an invalid answer.

The visibly unmoved Nkaigwa says he intends to table the motion in Parliament on the declaration of Botswana as a Christian nation.

The reasons he advanced were that Christianity has a massive following in the country therefore it should be recognized by the State.

According to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, about 79.3 percent of Batswana are Christians, a significant increase of 7.7 percent from the previous census which was conducted in 2001. In addition, he says that the plethora of problems besieging the country needs the intervention of the Christian God. “Our country is in an appalling state and the political leadership has failed beyond reasonable doubt to resolve all this mess.

Our people go for months without basic amenities like water and electricity; our children in public schools are failing dismally and the economy is growing at a snail’s pace. Young people, who constitute 60 percent of our population, remain unemployed. The agricultural sector, which used to contribute immensely to our economy, is almost extinct and the performance of the mining sector has plummeted. I mean if I were to reveal the tragedy that has befallen our noble country; the sun would rise and set,” declared Nkaigwa.

A devout Christian and a member of Rivers of Living Waters, led by Archbishop Bafana Stephen Zondo, Nkaigwa accused the country’s political leadership of not submitting to God and seeking his guidance.

He quotes from the Bible, how in the times of Old Testament, Kings and emperors of ancient Israel, Judea and Rome worked hand in hand with prophets and priests to address the problems that had engulfed those nations.

“If you read the Holy Bible with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, you will understand that the leaders in the past like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, King David, King Solomon and King Saul of Israel could not do anything without the approval of Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Nathan since they communicated to God concerning all the matters of the nation. So our leadership here should imitate that of ancient Israel for our nation to prosper,” asserted Nkaigwa.

Responding to Nkaigwa’s question in the House, Labour and Home Affairs minister Batshu said that there were neither plans nor any intentions to declare Botswana a Christian State. He said that the primary reason was that the Republican Constitution protects freedom of conscience under section 11 where it has been provided that except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience, and for this section the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching , practice and observance.

In conclusion, Batshu said that Botswana does not have a State- sponsored religion and therefore officially neutral when it comes to matters of religion, but as a nation, Botswana is currently deeply influenced by Christian values.

Nkaigwa was unimpressed, saying he expected much from Batshu since he too was a Christian and a pastor. He said that the notion that Botswana was a secular State was non-existent.

“To me secularism is the belief that religion should not play a role in government and other public parts of the society. In other words, it is the separation of politics from religion. So if indeed we are a secular State, why is it that our government is recognizing Christian festivals such as Christmas, Ascension Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday by declaring them paid holidays? Why is it that Christian hymns are sung every morning in public schools?” asked Nkaigwa.

The legislator said that the actions of the government were tantamount to hypocrisy as even members of Parliament were sworn in using the Holy Bible and many meetings conducted by government officials were preceded by prayers and sermons.

Reached for comment, Molepolole North MP Mohammed Khan, a Muslim, said he was worried about Nkaigwa’s stance because in Umbrella for Democratic Change, issues of religion and divinity were not of concern and that there were many critical issues that had to be discussed in Parliament.

Patrick Buzwanani Gunda, a constitutional lawyer, concurred with Batshu on the provision of section 11 of the Constitution, noting that there was no specific reference to Christianity.
Regarding the declaration of Christian festivals as paid holidays, Gunda says that public holidays are made in terms of the Public Holidays Act (Chapter 03:07) of the Laws of Botswana.

“This is the legal basis upon which such holidays are declared and personally I think such a huge number of days are costly on commerce since out of 14 holidays, five of them are Christian- aligned and that may rightly or wrongly give an impression that we are, by conduct, a Christian State when we are not necessarily so,” explained Gunda.  

Dr. Elizabeth Pulane Motswapong, a lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana (UB) said the belief that Botswana could be declared a Christian State were based on assumptions that the majority of Batswana were supposedly Christians.

“If we are saying majority of Batswana are Christians what yardstick are we using to measure that? I am posing this question because if you look at what is on the ground, majority of Batswana subscribe to two religions namely African Traditional Religion and Christianity. I still want to maintain that Botswana is secular and should remain so because of the the dual membership that Batswana embrace and the undeniable fact that there are many advantages of being a secular society,” Dr Motswapong added.

She stated that the fact that the Constitution recognizes five Christian festivals was not enough to draw conclusions that Botswana was a Christian country and therefore should be declared as such.

“In addition, rites of passage such as death and marriage are conducted in Christian way, Christian rituals are employed most of the time in public gatherings and the Bible under oath is also very common resulting in some people like Nkaigwa mistaking Botswana to be a Christian country.

Dr Motswapong said all religions practised in Botswana have co-existed in perfect harmony for a very long time because of the accommodative nature of Batswana as a peace-loving nation and it was appropriate to view Botswana as an inclusive secular or pluralistic multi faith country.

Furthermore, she says that it is better to leave politics to politicians and not have religion play part in the running of the government warning that in counties where politics and religion have not been separated, the results have been chaotic.

“For the good of the country, it is better Botswana remains a secular state because, let us not forget that even Christianity is a colonial religion after all therefore it is foreign to Batswana,” concluded Motswapong.

The debate continued on Social Media

Meanwhile, the debate on the declaration of Botswana as a Christian State was trending on social media this week. These are some of the extracts from various Facebook posts and tweets: “I just want to puke when I hear people say that Botswana’s constitution is based on Christian doctrines,” tweeted Senwelo Modise.

“Most of those that support calls for Botswana to be declared a Christian State clearly have no idea of the implications. Life in a theocracy is no joke: soon thereafter, saying something that opposes Christianity and its deity will be declared blasphemy and you just might be jailed, practising other religions may be seen as something alien, Christian practices and symbols may now be forced upon oneself in public institutions and sex before marriage will be criminalized because it is against the dictates of the Bible. Let each practise as they wish, it is not the business of the state to declare religion on our behalf. If Christianity is compelling enough it will draw people to it and need no legislation that lumps people into it,” read Lawrence Ookeditse’s Facebook post.

“Nkaigwa want Botswana to be a theocratic state so that he convinces other religious leaders that he can be the president. That is akin to seeking political power through back door,” tweeted Kabelo Mhuriro.

“My honest view is that as Botswana is a secular state, its public schools should do away with this conservative practice of school assembly as they do not at all resonate with secularity. In fact these practices are a result of neo colonial missionaries who wanted to indoctrinate school going children by the virtue of having contributed to formal education,” Solly Rakgomo posted on Facebook.

“Majority of theocratic states like those in the Middle East are in chaos. Nkaigwa seems to be so obsessed with Christianity,” tweeted Pearl Kalasi.

“Nkaigwa is no way different from Donald Trump, he is fond of making irresponsible statements and he is divisive,” tweeted Mpho Kenosi.

“Majority of Batswana eat Halaal which is sold across many supermarkets yet they are not Muslims, and that is the essence of being a secular state, we embrace one another,” read Victoria Batleng’s Facebook post.

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