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Pastors develop cold feet on challenging new law

Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu

An assemblage of enraged pastors who had earlier this year vowed to approach the High court to challenge the constitutionality of the Societies Amendment Bill after the president Lt. Gen. Ian Khama signed it into substantive law have now developed cold feet on the matter.

WeekendPost has established that the pastors, who had already roped-in a constitutional lawyer Kabo Motswagole of Motswagole and Company, are said to be not forthcoming and are fostering the theory that they might have abandoned the impending court case.

Previously the ‘men of God’ strongly opposed the bill and maintained that should Khama sign the bill, they would immediately encounter the law by moving an application before the courts to challenge it.

It is understood that the pastors have since kept a low profile and not followed on their vow, although due to unclear circumstances. The clergymen have remained anonymous for fear of being victimized by the government or whoever. When asked on the matter, the attorney representing the pastors, Motswagole confirmed to this publication that it’s indeed true that the priests had “grown cold feet” but it’s unclear why so.

Information reaching this publication suggests that President Khama has already assented to the bill and it’s now substantive law. This comes after the bill, clouded with controversy whereby legislator for Francistown West Ignatious Moswaane broke his sunglasses to illustrate protest against the proposed law while another representing Sefhare Ramokgonami Dorcas Makgato threatened to strip naked if the law did not pass, was debated extensively by parliament. The bill has however been passed by the National Assembly.

“Now since the bill has gone through all the structures and procedures in place, it has been gazetted and the president has also signed it to become substantive law,” a source at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA) under the Department of Civil and National Registration confirmed to WeekendPost this week.

Previously, the Societies Act prescribed the minimum number of persons for the formation and registration of a society at ten (10). As it stands, the number of persons required in the enacted law for registering a society under the bill has thus been upstretched from 10 to 20, and that of religious organisations from 10 to a whopping 250.

The number 250, together with a few other sections is said to be at odds with the church ministers and their sympathisers. They insist that it impedes and breaches on the fundamental freedom of religion and is therefore unconstitutional.

This publication has it on good authority that the new law will be operationalized next month – on September 1 – to be precise. It is understood that the Ministry is currently reviewing regulations.

“We are currently discussing the Act first with stakeholders before we operationalize it, as you know, the law is debated by parliament, then it adopts it, and the president signs it and later it is gazetted for two consecutive times and further consultations are made and then Act is implemented.”

According to the Ministry official under the department, this week they met with various stakeholders from different Societies affected by the new Act including churches to consult them further through workshops subsequent to the Act approval by parliament and assenting by President Khama.

Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu had, when presenting the bill to parliament, said that “the amendment was necessitated by ‘mushrooming’ of churches, particularly under foreign leadership who appeared to be ‘economic missionaries’ attracted by the economic status of this country.”

According to Batshu, there was also a concern with regard to splinter churches that emerged due to struggles for leadership positions and control of church assets as well as finances.

Meanwhile it is understood that Minister Batshu’s locus – and by extension the new law – has not gone down well with the some church movements such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB) which publicly denounced the law as a ‘not-so-good’ law. The umbrella body of Pentecostal and evangelical or ‘fire churches’ is seen as widely targeted by the law.

According to EFB president, Master Matlhaope, they opposed not the law in its entirety but some of the sections in the new law like the one which raises the threshold number of 250 from the previous 10 to register a church.

“It will stop even genuine churches to register,” he pointed out. “We felt 250 was too high to register a church, and it will encourage unlawful operations. To raise that 250, you mobilise people and you may end up assembling illegally. We had requested the government to re-look at this area, but they did not.”

Matlhaope also highlighted that there was need for a religious advisory council which will educate, empower and therefore mitigate the impact as far as mushrooming of churches is concerned. Right now, he said there is lack of strong regulatory mechanism.

He insisted that the law needed thorough minds to be applied and not emotions. Although the EFB president condemned those churches and men of God lacking integrity and those commercializing the churches, he asserted that in the end he stands for freedom of worship.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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