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About a month or so ago, South African tabloids ran amok and social media went on high gear after news broke that gospel artist, S'fiso Ncwane, had bought his pastor a R1,900,000.00 Mercedes Benz GL63 AMG.

The vitriolic commentaries that followed crucifying S'fiso were not entirely unexpected, for there is an unfortunate belief system or tradition in these parts of the world, that believes that pastors ought to be not too far removed from paupers. I don't know who told people that poverty is a badge of piety and that to epitomize true piety; preachers must not enjoy the finer things in life.
Of course, there were some who commended S'fiso's high generosity. But they were a minority compared to those who suddenly discovered their moral clout and became instant theologians and social commentators.

It was amusing at times. But there was nothing funny about the amount of ignorance spewed. But that wasn't all. Just when it appeared as if the story was losing traction, news again reached tabloid desks that S'fiso's pensioner mother had an empty fridge at home!
I couldn't help but chuckle. This is Africa. Almost every eye reading this column knows very well the reality of an occasional empty fridge. An empty fridge is no more a sign of poverty than a full fridge is a sign of prosperity.

But some mischief makers decided that it was rank hypocrisy for S'fiso to be buying his pastor an AMG while his mother's fridge was empty. Of course, in simplistic terms, one can understand the argument. But the problem is the spirit with which it is presented. I, for one, know very well that as believers we ought to take care of our families, including our parents. Scripture commands it. It is un-Christian and ungodly to neglect family. But an empty fridge is no evidence enough that S'fiso was neglecting his mother. That's mere sensationalism designed to boost sales. Was S'fiso wrong to buy his pastor a car costing nearly R2 million? That's for you to decide.

But don't tie your argument to his mother's empty fridge. The two are totally unrelated cases. Was it too extravagant a gesture? Of course, some will argue themselves blue and black saying it was. But I'll tell you something: it's not that these people necessarily think it was extravagant. No. Their problem is that it was given to a pastor. And there we have it. You see, people have a problem with pastors living as well as they are, or even better than they are.

People generally feel better about themselves and their religion when their clergy are beneath them in terms of standard of living. It's ok for a doctor to drive a Porsche. It's ok for a lawyer to drive a Range Rover. It's ok for a businessman to drive a Ferrari. But God forbid a pastor should drive a Mercedes Benz! Pray tell, is what a pastor doing of any less importance than the cited examples? Pastors often live like doctors, working odd hours and expected to do it all with a smile but with no obvious tangible reward. Contrary to misinformed opinion, pastors don't only clock a few hours per week on a Sunday. Who officiates a wedding? Pastor. Who conducts a funeral? Pastor. Who counsels couples before marriage and when their marriage is on the rocks? Pastor. Who's expected to visit the sick and pray for them at home and at the hospital? Pastor. Who's expected to leave his wife and kids in bed in the dead of the night to respond in prayer or even a visit to a troubled soul? Pastor. The list is endless. And yet, should such a man receive a material benefit or symbol of luxury, hypocrites will cry a river! Many congregations have seen spiritual pain, hurt and wounds.

Pastors and wives are often caught in the middle of “hand-to-hand” combat. They are unable to leave the field of battle, for it follows them everywhere. Families have broken up over doctrines. Friendships have ended because of grace. There have been ugly scenes of hostility and animosity, with emotions fractured and nerves frayed. Walking in the warfare have been pastors and their spouses, attempting to comfort, soothe, encourage, uplift, direct and gently admonish. It is fitting that we honor Christian soldiers who displayed courage under fire.

A big “Thank you” to all men and women of God, especially our pastors and their spouses who have endured criticism because of the cross of Christ is always in order. We ought to always salute the bravery, humility, love and dedication of the men and women who stand for Jesus Christ in the face of opposition, including opposition from us their audience at times. And, we should not apologize for honoring them and lavishing them with gifts whenever we can. They more than deserve it. Unfortunately, when expressions like S'fiso's become public knowledge, suddenly people care about the poor! Suddenly people say he should have bought a cheaper car and paid for poor children's uniform or school fees. Suddenly people say he should have built an orphanage. And so on and so forth. Take a seat! Buying a pastor an AMG doesn't end the world. Nor does not buying it make the world a better place. Better yet, next time you want to buy yourselves a nice car, watch, house, etc, think about the poor.

Show me the kids you've clothed. Show me the orphans you've fed. Why should the pastor's comfort be sacrificed for the common good? Let's start with the man in the mirror. Some mischievous folks got even cheekier and said that the car was actually bought on credit and was still effectively owned by the bank. I ask, so what? I dare say upwards of 95% of the eyes that are reading this that own a house or a car is through credit. We are paying notes and bonds on the cars and houses we "own." The issue is not so much whether you can afford the car. The main issue is whether you can afford the loan repayment. And clearly the bank had confidence in S'fiso's ability to do so. The credit system is not sinful.

If it is, most of us are in trouble because we are servicing some kind of debt in our lives. The Bible acknowledges the credit system and the principle of interest. S'fiso, like the rest of us, took advantage of this system. And he duly got the car for his man of God. It is a gesture not just of generosity but of honor. The problem with most Christians and non-Christians today is that they don't understand honor. S'fiso was not paying for anything.

He was expressing gratitude and honor to a man he highly esteems. And what you give shows the level of honor you place upon the recipient. Some time ago, the nation was bemused and some outraged when the then President Festus Mogae declined a donkey given to him as a present by a resident of Mabutsane. I don't know the full details, but I would think a donkey to him did not reflect a proper honoring of a man of his stature. A horse would have been a different story. You will agree with me that had S'fiso bought the pastor a Mazda, we would never have known about it. T

he work of pastors is often compared to that of shepherds. Shepherds lead, prod, take care of, watch out for, nurture, rescue and direct the sheep. As shepherds, we work under the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). A shepherd’s work can be hazardous and grueling. The powerful story of rescue and salvation in Luke 15, of leaving the ninety nine to find the one who is lost, motivates all men and women of God. But we must always remember to give thanks and appreciation to those who sacrificially give of their lives so that others might be saved. “Pits” are an oft-used metaphor in the Bible. Salvation is often pictured, in both the Old and New Testaments, as rescue from a pit.

The land of the Bible was filled with natural and man-made pits, some of which were used as cisterns to capture rainwater. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers. Daniel was placed in a pit with a den of lions. Jeremiah found himself in a cistern and narrowly escaped death in a muddy mire. There are many present-day pits into which the people of God may fall. There are the pits of drunkenness and drug addiction. There are pits of unemployment, illness and disease. There are pits of immorality, of anger and hatred, of lying, deception and greed.

There are pits of self-pity and victimhood. There are pits of depression, despair and discouragement. When we are asked how we are doing, many of us have described our condition as being “in the pits.” God lifts us out of those pits. God saves us. Jesus walks among us, as our Shepherd, to lift us and carry us away from the pits into which we fall. Pastors and ministers constantly find themselves ministering around the edges of pits into which the people of God have fallen. We need to thank those who courageously and self-sacrificially give of themselves that we might be pointed to the One who can lift us out of the pit. And if the expression of our thanksgiving is in the form of a R2 million Mercedes Benz GL63 AMG, so be it! I'm actually waiting for my Bentley. By the way, my mother's fridge is empty.

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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