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.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”