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The use and abuse of “History”; religion as an example

In the last fifteen or so years, I have read extensively on the subject of religion, especially the way religion came to be so important to human beings. I have particularly focused on what has been described by historians as “the quest for the Historical Jesus”, and on the origins and evolution of Christianity up to its current state.


What motivated me to go into this subject? It started as an attempt to reconcile what I was learning as a scientist and what religion had taught me as a child. Like many children from Christian families, I had grown up being taught certain things about a transcendent being called “God” and the demands that “he” makes on us- how we are to behave etc. 

I remember in Primary School how we were taught about the various stories of the Old Testament, about creation, about the Israelites as the chosen people of God etc.  and moving on to the New Testament and learning about Jesus, and about how his crucifixion brought salvation to mankind etc. And all this, like the other children, I absorbed with the naivety of childhood, and believed everything that I was taught on the subject to be the only truth.


When I was in secondary school in the early 1960s, I was exposed to two Christian denominations. At home I was Lutheran, as my parents were, and I went through Luther’s catechism and the rites of confirmation. At St. Joseph’s College, I was exposed extensively to Catholic doctrine, because every student there had to go through some religious teaching of the Catholic Church.

All students had to go daily to Mass, irrespective of their denomination, and in the classroom we went through religious studies  based on catholic teaching, including the Catholic catechism, and a book I vaguely remember called “Student’s Catholic Doctrine”. All this I absorbed without critical appraisal.


When I got to University, I studied Natural Sciences and then Medicine. I started to learn that there were other perspectives about what life is and the position of the human being in the whole spectrum of organisms (living things) and in the universe as a whole.

For example, how could one reconcile Genesis and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species? How could I as a scientist reconcile what I knew or had learnt with the supernatural?  As an example, supernatural stories like the story of creation, the many things that are said to have happened in the Bible such as the sun standing still, the Virgin birth, the ascension and the miracles generally did not make sense to me as a scientist. 

These could not be explained empirically, through our regular senses or through rational thought; they could only be explained as mysteries or supernatural things done by God. It is not only religion that I had a problem with,  I had a problem with all things attributed to the supernatural. I stopped believing in witchcraft- I could not for example see how somebody could send lightening to strike another person, or get him to get ill and die by remote action without poisoning him or touching him. I could not see how divining with bones (ditaola) could diagnose somebody’s illness or identify that somebody is getting bewitched and by whom.


It was in view of all these things that some years ago I decided to read extensively on the subject of religion, especially on Christianity since that is the religion I grew up under. My initial enquiry was into the figure of Jesus, because I realized that for Christians that was the fulcrum of all belief.  After going through quite a number of books I realized that the subject automatically moved into the beginnings of the Christian religion or the Church.

And then I realized one could not really understand Christianity without going into its forebear, namely the Judaism as laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament. Of course when we talk of the Christian Bible, or Scripture,  the most widely read book in the world, we are talking of the Hebrew scripture, now called the Old Testament,  and the Christian Canon, or the New Testament. The New Testament is made up of 27 books that were selected by Christian fathers from hundreds of books to form what is now the official Canon. They are made up of different genres such as letters, like the letters of Paul, Gospels, and the Apocalypse (Revelation).

There were many other writings which for different reasons were not included in the Canon. There were for example many other Gospels which the Christian fathers decided not to include in the official Canon.


During this literary journey, I came to realize that it all boiled down to one thing; history. I came to learn that from the 18th century, the Bible has been subjected to what is usually called the historical critical study method, as opposed to devotional study. Up to that time, it was just taken for granted that the Bible was written by authors who were divinely inspired, and therefore it was the word of God. In their historical critical analysis  of the Bible, historians used methods such as source criticism, text criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism, and they generally came to the conclusion that the Bible, both Old and New Testament, is not really history in the modern sense of the word.

For example, the Torah or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), also known as the Law, could not have been written by Moses as it was claimed. At least four different authors or groups of authors could be traced for the Torah, writing over several centuries, and it was evident that it was extensively edited during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE, about eight centuries after the period Moses is purported to have lived. It also turned out that extensive archaeological excavations have shown no evidence of human movement in the Levant of the scale described in Exodus; there is virtually no historical evidence of even the existence of a figure fitting the description of Moses.

A similar analysis of Psalms shows that contrary to belief, they could not have been all authored by King David. Some of the Psalms refer to a time several centuries after David, like Psalm 137 that refers to the Babylonian exile, almost 500 years after David. As for the New Testament, except for the seven genuine letters of Paul, all the other writings are of unknown authorship, including the four Gospels and all the other letters, as well as Revelation.


So it is all a matter of history.  Some historians doubt the very existence of Jesus, although those are a small minority; there are even non-Christian sources that attest to his existence. What is in great dispute is what he was and what he did, or even what he claimed to be. That he was baptized by John the Baptist and that he was executed by the Romans during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate pass the tests of multiple attestation and dissimilarity very well, as well as the fact that he lived and operated most of his life in the Galilee. That he was executed by Romans in the manner reserved for those guilty of subversion (crucifixion), and that his followers were not also executed still interests historians up to now. The titulus on the cross  (INRI), “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” supports the theory that he was executed for subversion.


This brings me therefore to the matter of “HISTORY”, what it is and what can be achieved by it. I have always been interested in history because I believe one can learn a lot about the past and plan for the future using history. We all know what great men have said about the importance of history in knowing who we are; our first President is quoted often on what he said of a people without a history etc.  My fascination with history goes back to my Secondary School days, where I did South African history in Primary School and Junior Certificate and then European history (1815-1945) and African history for my COSC (Cambridge Overseas School Certificate). I happened to be the first student in Botswana who got a 1 in History in 1966 after the adoption of the COSC a few years before, and this was because of my absolute fascination with the subject, and an inspiring teacher in the name of Themba Vanqa.


“History” is not as straightforward as people believe. My interest in the “Historical Jesus” and in the history of Christianity generally has rekindled my interest in history in general. What actually is history? What can we learn from history? What role does personal interpretation play? How much is it subject to abuse by those who want to use it for their own purposes etc., for example politicians? To answer some of these questions, below are extracts from some very reputable academics and historians on their views about history, particularly as it applies to religion or the “Jesus of history”.


James D.G. Dunn believes that there are two wrong assumptions about history;


“That there is an objectivity in history (the past) which allows history (the discipline) to be treated on the analogy of the natural sciences; that is, historical facts are objects in history which could be uncovered or recovered by scientific method like so many archaeological artefacts (Positivism);


That the historian could be entirely impartial, strictly objective in his/her treatment of the historical facts, and could therefore avoid prejudicial value judgements (Historicism).
Behind these lay the Enlightenment assumption that human reason is sufficient measure of true and false fact. Reason was once understood as God-given, but the increasing secularism of modernity more and more reflected the triumph of autonomous human reason as axiomatic.


Behind this in turn was the assumption, drawn from Isaac Newton’s discovery of the universal laws of motion and gravity, that the cosmos is a single harmonious structure of forces and masses (itself an ancient conviction), and that the world is like an intricate machine following immutable laws, a closed system of cause and effect.

Probability not certainty: The historical ‘event’ belongs to the irretrievable past. All the historian has available are the ‘data’ which have come down through history- personal diaries, reminiscences of eyewitnesses, reports constructed from people who were present, perhaps some archaeological artefacts, as well as circumstantial data about climate, commercial practice, the laws of the time and so forth. From these the historian attempts to reconstruct the ‘facts’.

The facts are not to be identified as data; they are always an interpretation of the data. Nor should the fact be identified with the event itself, though it will always be in some degree of approximation to the event. Where the data are abundant and consistent, the responsible historian may be confident of achieving a reasonably close approximation. Where they are much more fragmentary and often inconsistent, confidence of achieving a close approximation is bound to be much less. In historical scholarship the judgement “probable” is a very positive verdict.


None of this is to deny the importance of the past, or that historical data have a recognizable objectivity. It is, however, to recognize that the movement from data to fact is a good deal more complex than is usually appreciated.”

John Dominic Crossan takes this further.  According to him

“History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse. There are times when we can get only alternative perspectives on the same event. (There are always alternative perspectives, even when we do not hear them). But history as argued public reconstruction is necessary to reconstruct our past in order to project our future.
History is not the same as story. Even if all history is story, not all story is history.”

Paula Fredriksen, another prominent Christian historian gives the following view:

“The ‘backward’ thrust of history also poses intellectual dangers. Again like the reader of the twice-read novel or the viewer of the twice-seen film, we cannot help knowing more than we should. Beyond the moral discipline of allowing for otherness, then, we need to cultivate as well the intellectual discipline of viewing the past as if we knew less than we know.

This is difficult precisely because history in its very nature is retrospective. We start from our vantage point in the present and work ourselves back into an imagined past. But although history is always done backward, life is only lived forward. We all move from our present into the radical unknowability of the future. If in our historical work we wish to reconstruct the lived experience of the ancient people we study, then we must forswear our retrospective knowledge, because it gives us a perspective on their lives that they themselves could not possibly have had. We, looking back now, know how their stories ended; they, living their lives, did not.  

To understand our ancient people from the evidence they left behind, we must affect a willed naiveté. We must pretend to an innocence of the future that echoes their own. Only then can we hope to realistically re-create them in their own historical circumstances. Only by accepting- indeed, respecting and protecting- the otherness of the past, can we hope to glimpse the human faces of those we seek.”

Lastly but not least, these are views from Karen Armstrong, a very reputable author on the history of religion:

“Despite my years as a nun, I do not believe my experience of God is unusual. My ideas about God were formed in childhood and did not keep abreast of my growing knowledge in other disciplines. I had revised simplistic childhood views of Father Christmas; I had come to a more mature understanding of complexities of the human predicament than had been possible in the kindergarten. Yet my early, confused ideas about God had not been modified or developed. People without my peculiarly religious background may also find that their notion of God was formed in infancy. Since those days, we have put away childish things and have discarded the God of our first years.


Yet my study of history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religious. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art…………Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to. Like any other human activity, religion can be abused but it seems to have been something that we have always done….. Indeed, our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history. We have to see how it will work……Our ethical secular ideal has its own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people the means of finding faith in the ultimate meaning of human life that were once provided by the more conventional religions.”

I wanted to share these views because I have seen a lot of writers and columnists in our newspapers venturing into history. The writings of Jeff Ramsey impress me because they are obviously very professional.  About many others, I don’t know; one can’t help but feel that they are obviously pushing particular agendas. There are of course two columnists who write on the history of Judeo-Christian religion from a very unconventional view point (Leteane and Saili). I take it they are deliberately provoking controversial views.

Early in my readings into the Historical Jesus, I read a book from a Barbara Thiering, a respected academic from Australia, who presented a very unconventional view of Jesus: that he actually did not die on the cross, that he lived to old age, was married and had children. This is a very good illustration of how inexact history can be, as quoted from the above authors, especially James D.G. Dunn, who has become one of my favourite authors on Christian beginnings.

James D.G. Dunn(2003) Christianity in the Making Vol. 1; Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

 John Dominic Crossan (1998) The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (HarperCollins Publishers).

 Paula Fredriksen (1999) Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (Macmillan)

 Karen Armstrong (1993) A History of God (Vintage)

 Barbara Thiering (1992) Jesus the Man (Corgi Books)

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No deal was made with Disney World – Tsogwane

16th April 2021
disney-carlifonia-park

President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has been touring the entire world since occupying Presidential office in 2018. Few months down the line, he flew to Florida in the United States of America where he landed at the Disney World.

This is the world’s largest entertainment complex opened in 1971, with four theme parks (consisting of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

Upon his return in the country from the fairytale land, Masisi said Botswana struck a partnership with Disney World. The partnership primarily focused on turning the country’s capital, Gaborone, into an international tourism and leisure destination.

“We have struck a partnership with Disney World as a company. They focus on making people happy and bringing tourists. I want tourists in this country. Visa restrictions are out. They will be issued on arrival. I have tasked Minister Makgato’s Ministry to categorize taxis so that there can be value in the taxi industry.

I am very committed to making Gaborone an international venue center and this will bring revenue to our country,” Masisi said at the time. Masisi, has now appointed Makgato as Botswana’s High Commissioner – designate to the Commonwealth of Australia.

However, two years later, there is no sign of Gaborone being turned into a tourism hub. In fact, the partnership Masisi struck with Disney World never emerged. It is now becoming more of a pipeline dream, and politicians are keen to know what really transpired.

In a dramatic turn of events, Masisi’s flanking Minister, Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng, slammed Vice President Slumber Tsogwane with questions on this said ghost partnership, demanding answers on Masisi’s long dead promise.

Vice President Tsogwane told Parliament on Thursday that Masisi was looking for investors to come and do business in Botswana, either in partnership with government or the private sector.

“The President and his delegation engaged in meetings with the management of Disney World to identify opportunities for the company to collaborate with in Botswana. There were a number of opportunities Mr. Speaker for collaboration that were identified to be followed up with by bilateral negotiations with various institutions.

The key area that was identified for collaboration was the implementation of an enhanced customer care training and development akin to that of Disney World.

The Botswana Public Service College was assigned to collaborate with Disney World, to roll out a training programme which will achieve excellent customer service for the public sector in Botswana, Tsogwane said via virtual Parliament.

He further said representatives of Disney World visited Botswana on a fact finding mission in May 2019.

“While in Botswana, the team toured selected sites such as Gaborone bus rank, Tlokweng Boarder post, and Department of Roads, Training and Safety offices amongst others. Following this, Disney World produced a scoping report which detailed training and engagement timelines for consideration by government,” said Tsogwane.

In fulfilment of their procurement requirement, Tsogwane said Disney Institute was requested to submit a proposal based on their scoping report indicating associated cost implications. He said, Disney declined to submit citing that it does not deal directly with government.

“After being advised by their Disney World Board, they therefore advised Botswana government to deal with another company in the United States of America, which according to them does the Disney World way. This never proceeded because our interest was on Disney World and not any other company that point in time.”

As a result, Tsogwane told Parliament that no deal or contract was signed with Disney World. “The issue of easing of restrictions which is part of the question, between any two countries is a matter that is negotiated through diplomatic channels and whenever agreements are reached, proper communication is made. With regard to Visa restrictions between Botswana and the US, Tsogwane says they will continue discussions on how to ease restrictions,” he said on Thursday.

Morwaeng wanted Tsogwane to update Parliament on: Government’s deal with Disney World, the terms of the deal propounded by the President in March 2019; Whether the deal was signed, when it was signed and clear specifics of the deal and its benefits to Botswana tourism; when visa restrictions between the two countries (Botswana and the United States of America) will be eased and visas issued on arrival as per the Disney World deal pronouncement; and If the deal struck with Disney World was not just mere electioneering talk that will never see the light of the day.

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Gov’t has no budget for Magosi’s SADC chase

12th April 2021
Elias Magosi

Despite the government of Botswana’s ambition to have one of its own to lead Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) since its establishment in 1980, the Presidency says there is no budget specifically dedicated to the campaign.

The Government has released the name of Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Mpedi Magosi, as the candidate for the SADC Executive Secretary position. Magosi is expected to face off with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) candidate, Faustin Mukela. The position will become vacant in August this year.

However, despite the optimism the Botswana Government has not yet set aside a budget to assist Magosi to win against the seemingly DRC giant. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the country’s ability to effectively fund any new project. This campaign is not an exception. As such, we do not have any budget for the campaign. However, we have so far managed to take advantage of His Excellency the President’s working visits to the neighbouring countries to also carry out the campaigns,” Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, explained.

Botswana has housed SADC since the establishment of the then SADCC in 1980, but has never occupied top most leadership positions at the SADC Secretariat.  “We therefore, strongly believe that we should also have an opportunity to contribute to the management of our regional body as it continues to drive the important issues of regional integration industrialization and socio-economic development.

This will also profile Botswana as a strong advocate of regional integration,” he responded to this publication’s questionnaire as to why the Government wants to occupy the plum post. SADC is a Member State driven organization. As such, Leagajang said, needs a well-grounded Executive Secretary with a blend of management and leadership acumen; a transformational leader with political awareness and integrity; private and public sector experience; a deep culture of corporate governance; as well as strategic agility and result-oriented consummate diplomat.

“These are the unique attributes of our candidate,” he said. So far President Mokgweetsi Masisi has visited nine out of 16 SADC member states on a working visit and also taking an opportunity to present to them his candidate.

“The countries have appreciated this effort and we remain hopeful. However, it is important to note that this is a democratic and competitive process which must be respected,” he responded when asked about the reception and assurances from various countries to cast a vote for Magosi.

In 2018, when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi challenged for the Africa Union (AU) Chairperson, the government appointed former President Festus Mogae to be the campaign leader. Does the Government have anyone apart from Masisi to help with the campaign?

“The campaigns for the candidate are strictly led by the Government of Botswana. Since this is a candidate for Botswana, not just the Government, it will be appreciated if all Batswana, including the media, could also shoulder the responsibility to campaign for the candidate in their own spheres of influence,” Leagajang responded.

While there are sceptics on Magosi winning against the DRC man, the Government is confident and believes that with the unique traits that he possess, Magosi stands a chance. He is said to be a strong advocate of justice and fairness as he has played this role in his current role as PSP and in his previous roles as PS and in the private sector. He has helped individuals and companies to find justice and fairness in most of their dealings with Government.

Magosi is also said to be a proponent of corporate governance and which he has relentlessly pursued in most of his career including in Government and other sectors. A strong believer in following laid down procedures and laws. “He carries a variety of skills as an HR expert with experience in different sectors, a strategist and an Organization development specialist.

His experience and exposure spans government, parastatal, private sector and at regional level as well, thus making him a suitable candidate for the regional role. He has worked with governments, businesses, development partners and politicians and is comfortable navigating through all of them,” Leagajang concluded.

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Mzwinila’s P4.3 Billion gamble to keep water flowing

12th April 2021
orth-South-Carrier

The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Kefentse Mzwinila looked a politician set to shoot the moon as he laid bare his billions of pula development agenda recently in Parliament.

His Ministry’s combined Recurrent and Development Budget Proposals for the 2021/ 2022 Financial Year is pegged at Four Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty – Five Million, two Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P4, 365, 219, 560). This is a budget 38.3% more than the allocation for the 2020/2021 Financial Year.

Mzwinila preluded his request to parliament with a demonstration that his Ministry has no champagne taste on a beer budget – indicating that his ministry’s expenditure at the end of February 2021P2.111 Billion or 96% of development budget; and P910 million or 90% of the recurrent budget.

Notwithstanding the budget dust, the Minister justified this year’s increase in the Ministry’s total budget. He attributed the escalation to the commencement of major projects under the water sector. These include the implementation of the North South Carrier (NSC) 22.2 covering various sub projects. Mzwinila noted that these are all public value projects which are aimed at improving the lives of Batswana.

Mzwinila’s Ministry has projected that the sum of Nine Hundred and Sixty –Three Million, Nine Hundred and Forty – Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P963, 947, 560) be permitted for the Recurrent Budget and stand part of the 2021 / 2022 Appropriation Bill ( No. 1 of 2021).

“55% of the Recurrent Budget is geared towards the Revenue Support Grant for 12 Land Boards and their subordinate authorities while the sum of P5 Million is allocated to the Real Estate Advisory Council (REAC). The remaining 44% is proposed for the Ministry Departments.”

The sum of Three Billion, Four Hundred and One Million, Two hundred and Seventy –Two Thousand Pula (P3, 401, 272, 000), for the Development Budget was approved and stand part of the same schedule of the appropriation (2021/2022).

When breaking down the Development Budget, Minister Mzwinila noted that Water Supply and Sanitation projects will account for P1.098 Billion to finance the Maun Water and Sanitation project, Molepolole Sanitation projects and the Shakawe Water Treatment Plant Rehabilitation.

With all the implementation bottlenecks troubling several projects in the country, Mzwinila had to satisfy the question of whether his Ministry demonstrated a dire need for the budget with reference to its execution of the budget for the financial year 2020/2021 and its delivery of strategic initiatives and projects?

Mzwinila’s pitch found favour with parliament and his ministry will get an aggregate budget of P3.198 Billion for the 2020/ 2021 Financial Year. Within this allocation, P2.188 Billion is for the Development Budget and P1.010 Billion will cover the Recurrent Budget.

The Minister revealed his strategic interventions for land management, water and sanitation services. Highlighting that efforts by Government to provide serviced residential land to citizens on the waiting list are being hampered by limited resources. He shared that his ministry needs P94 Billion to cover such costs which will directly link to water, sewage, roads, electricity, telecommunications and storm water drainage leading to the allocation of 4 587 plots on un-serviced land.

The minister projected that 22 952 un-serviced residential plots are planned to be allocated in the next financial year. However, there is a trend where allocated land remains fallow and undeveloped which raises misgivings that the requests could have been made on speculative plans.

Mzwinila noted that in the spirit of forging stronger International connections, the Ministry will in June 2021 sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Land matters between Namibia and Botswana with the aim of opening doors to the creation of Dry Ports in the country, facilitate international trade through Walvis Bay Sea Port.

Botswana is already challenged by scarcity of naturally occurring water resources due to the aridity of the country creating persistent water shortages. The type of infrastructure required to improve national water security is a true reflection of intensive investment needed in the water sector The Minister stressed.

“An emerging issue such as the COVID -19 pandemic poses serious challenges as the control of the virus requires reliable water supply. In an effort to mitigate the challenge, the Ministry has undertaken extensive bowsing throughout the country which included the provision of additional capacity for supplementary bowsing to areas with pervasive water shortages, plus an additional forty one (41) un-gazetted settlements.

Operational costs due to bowsing were at an average of P6 Million per month before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to an unsustainable amount of the order of P13 Million per month, since the beginning of the State of Emergency in April 2020,” the minister shared.

Through the support of a World Bank Loan, the Ministry is implementing several initiatives under the Botswana Emergency Water Security and Efficiency (BEWSE) project. Through BEWSE the Raw Water Pricing and Abstraction Strategy will assess the pricing of water in a manner that enables the provision of water to support new economic development, the strategy is planned to be completed in June 2021.

The Ministry has commenced the development of a long term National Water Security Strategy to improve resilience to climate change impacts. The strategy development entails prioritization of the proposed future mega water transfers such as the Chobe – Zambezi water transfer, the Atlantic Ocean water transfer to Botswana through Namibia and Lesotho – Botswana water transfer.

Following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa in November 2017 for the Lesotho –Botswana Water Transfer project, a 24 months contract for a combined prefeasibility and feasibility study for the development of a bankable Lesotho – Botswana Water Transfer project feasibility study was signed and is to be completed in 2022.

One of the Ministry’s famous major water supply projects such as the North South Carrier (NSC) 2.2 has experienced hiccups; having tenders for contract 1 (Masama to Mmamashia Pipeline) and Contract 2 (Mahalapye to Masama Pipeline) cancelled due to budgetary constraints.

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