The expected appointment of Dr Zein Kebonang as the acting judge of the High Court of Botswana has raised fresh concerns over the independence, credibility and integrity of the country’s judiciary and caused unrest within the legal fraternity.
The Law Society of Botswana (LSB) in particular has expressed great concern over the matter and made it known that they would be challenging Kebonang’s appointment through the High Court as they believe the appointment was unconstitutional and irregular.
Speaking during this week’s media briefing in Gaborone on Wednesday evening, the deputy chairperson of the LSB, Kgalalelo Monthe revealed that their attorneys have started working on the court papers.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), the LSB on the advice of its attorneys decided to review its position in so far as procedure is concerned. Instead of moving an urgent application to interdict the acting appointment of Dr Kebonang or any other person so appointed, the LSB has decided to move an application in the normal cause so that it focuses its energies on the more important move, which is a substantive application which will be launched once the statutory notices expire,” Monthe explained.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) advised President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama to appoint Kebonang an acting Judge early this week, after he rejected their initial advice to appoint Anthony Motumise as the judge of the same court last week. Motumise is a senior lawyer with a private law firm.
Although the President allegedly did not give any reasons for rejecting Motumise, the JSC went on to appoint Kebonang, who is believed to be pro ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and allegedly has not been actively practicing law for some time now. In 2010, Kebonang who is a twin Brother to Sadique Kebonang who sits in President Khama’s cabinet was roped into the BDP intellectual team, a think tank that was set up to draw the party media game plan and clean up the party’s image.
The then Minister of Educations and Skills Development, currently that of Foreign Affairs Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi who was masterminding the strategy had revealed that the BDP had roped in “friends of the BDP.” Kebonang has also written a number of newspaper commentaries in support of the BDP and President Khama.
However at the time of going to print, the President was yet to officially declare the appointment of Kebonang as the acting judge and the LSB were still working on the court papers which would cite the President and the JSC as respondents. “JSC would be sued as a party because they succumbed to the President’s decision. The JSC and the President appear to be singing the same note,” explained Dick Bayford who is leading the legal team in this case.
Bayford suggested that, they would therefore request the Chief Justice and the President of the court of Appeal to recuse themselves from the next appointment exercise as they are seemingly conflicted.
The Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal are directly appointed by the President. Other Judges are suggested by the JSC and the President’s powers in the appointment are very limited as he has to act according to advice by the commission.
“The President is entitled to make his own judgment. The constitution states that he is not required to take advice from anyone unless otherwise provided for by the constitution. Why would the framers of the constitution make that deliberate provision? That is why we say he has no right to reject the advice of the JSC,” added one of the legal team members, Osego Garebamono.
It may take months before the case is finally argued in court, but the legal team is optimistic that the end results would have consequential results on the future appointments of judges. According to Tshiamo Rantao, of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys will be handling the case, the court declaration “would have consequential relief and will be binding to the President and future Presidents.”
The background of the conflict is that in March 2015, the LSB was informed that there would be a meeting of the JSC on Friday 20, March, 2015. The notice that President Khama had rejected the recommendation of the JSC to appoint Motumise as judge of the High court was the agenda.
Two days before the meeting, Rantao issued a statutory notice to JSC, President Khama and the Attorney General of their intention to oppose the action through court proceedings. The application would be for an order amongst others, that the refusal by the President to appoint Motumise as a judge contravened section 96 (6) of the constitution which makes it mandatory for the President to appoint a judge in accordance with the advice of the JSC. The position of the LSB is that the President has no discretion and therefore must appoint in accordance with such an advice.
The statutory notice further recommended that the JSC should not recommend to the President any other name for appointment, whether in an acting or full-time capacity pending the court proceedings. However on Monday, the JSC went ahead and recommended Zein Kebonang for appointment as acting judge.
On Wednesday, 25th March, 2015, Rantao issued yet another statutory notice to indicate that the acting appointment will be challenged at the High court as being unconstitutional.
The case would require interpretation of the constitution and the court filing is expected to commence around the 25th, April, 2015.
The case comes a few months after the LSB had another raw with the chief Justice over allegations that some attorneys were in the habit of forum shopping whereby they would take their cases to the judges who would give them the “right” judgment.
An international report complied in South Africa dubbed ‘Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana’ says that the transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana live a miserable life. The community experiences higher levels of discrimination, violence and ill health.
In this report, it has been indicated that this is because their gender identity, which does not conform to narrowly define societal norms, renders them more vulnerable. Gender identity is a social determinant of health, which means that it is a factor that influences people’s health via their social context, their communities and their experiences of social exclusion. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recognized this, and transgender people are considered a vulnerable population under the Botswana Second National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010-2017.
In a recent study that shed light on the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana, transgender persons often experience discrimination because of their gender identity and expression. The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town, LEGABIBO, BONELA, as well as Rainbow Identity Association and approved by the Health Ministry as well as the University of Botswana.
Of the 77 transgender and gender non-conforming people who participated in the study, less than half were employed. Two thirds, which is approximately 67% said that they did not have sufficient funds to cover their everyday needs. Two in five had hidden health concerns from their healthcare provider because they were afraid to disclose their gender identity.
More than half said that because of their gender identity, they had been treated disrespectfully at a healthcare facility (55%), almost half (46%) said they had been insulted at a healthcare facility, and one quarter (25%) had been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.
At the same time, the ‘Are we doing right’ study suggests that transgender and non-conforming people might be at higher risks of experiencing violence and mental ill-health, compared to the general population. More than half had experienced verbal embarrassment because of their gender identity, 48% had experienced physical violence and more than one third (38%) had experienced sexual violence.
The study showed that mental health concerns were high among transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana. Half of the transgender and gender non-conforming study participants (53%) showed signs of depression. Between one in four and one in six showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (22% among transgender women, 24% among transgender men and 17% among gender non-conforming people).
Further, the study revealed that many had attempted suicide: one in three transgender women (32%), more than one in three transgender men (35%) and three in five gender non-conforming people (61%).
International research, as well as research from Botswana, suggests that not being able to change one’s gender marker has a negative impact on access to healthcare and mental health and wellbeing. The study further showed that one in four transgender people in Botswana (25%) had been denied access to healthcare. This is, at least in part, linked to not being able to change one’s gender marker in the identity documents, and thus not having an identity document that matches one’s gender identity and gender expression.
In its Assessment of Legal and Regulatory Framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis, the Health Ministry noted that “transgender persons in Botswana are unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity, which is a barrier to health services, including in the context of HIV. In one documented case, a transwoman’s identity card did not reflect her gender identity- her identity card photo indicated she was ‘male’. When she presented her identity card at a health facility, a health worker called the police who took her into custody.”
The necessity of a correct national identity document goes beyond healthcare. The High Court of Botswana explains that “the national identity document plays a pivotal role in every Motswana’s daily life, as it links him or her with any service they require from various institutions. Most activities in the country require every Motswana to produce their identity document, for identification purposes of receiving services.”
According to the Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana report, this effectively means that transgender, whose gender identity and expression is likely to be different from the sex assigned to them at birth and from what is recorded on their identity document, cannot access services without risk of denial or discrimination, or accusations of fraud.
In this context, gays and lesbians advocacy group LEGABIBO has called on government through the Department of Civil and National Registration to urgently implement the High Court rulings on gender marker changes. As stated by the High Court in the ND vs Attorney General of Botswana judgement, identity cards (Omang) play an important role in the life of every Motswana. Refusal and or delay to issue a Motswana with an Omang is denying them to live a complete and full-filing life with dignity and violates their privacy and freedom of expression.
The judgement clarified that persons can change their gender marker as per the National Registrations Act, so changing the gender marker is legally possible. There is no need for a court order. It further said the person’s gender is self-identified, there is no need to consult medical doctors.
LEGABIBO also called on government to develop regulations that specify administrative procedure to change one’s gender marker, and observing self-determination process. Further, the group looks out for government to ensure members of the transgender community are engaged in the development of regulations.
“We call on this Department of Civil and National Registration to ensure that the gender marker change under the National Registration Act is aligned to the Births and Deaths Registry Act to avoid court order.
Meanwhile, a gay man in Lobatse, Moabi Mokenke was recently viciously killed after being sexually violated in the streets of Peleng, shockingly by his neighbourhood folks. The youthful lad, likely to be 29-years old, met his fate on his way home, from the wearisome Di a Bowa taverns situated in the much populated township of Peleng Central.
CEO of Khato Civils Mongezi Mnyani has come out of the silence and is going all way guns blazing against the company’s adversaries who he said are hell-bent on tarnishing his company’s image and “hard-earned good name”
Speaking to WeekendPost from South Africa, Mnyani said it is now time for him to speak out or act against his detractors. Khato Civils has done several projects across Africa. Khato Civils, a construction company and its affiliate engineering company, South Zambezi have executed a number of world class projects in South Africa, Malawi and now recently here in Botswana.
About ten (10) Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidates who lost the 2019 general election and petitioned results this week met with UDC Vice President, Dumelang Saleshando to discuss the way forward concerning the quandary that is the legal fees put before them by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) lawyers.
For a while now, UDC petitioners who are facing the wrath of quizzical sheriffs have demanded audience with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC) but in vain. However after the long wait for a tete-a-tete with the UDC, the petitioners met with Saleshando accompanied by other NEC members including Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, Reverend Mpho Dibeela and Dennis Alexander.