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Jeff Ramsay

Since being founded in 2012 by retired BDF Chief Lt. General Tebogo Masire, the THC Foundation has provided support and promoted advocacy, training and education to women and children who are victims of domestic violence. This past week, I was invited by the Foundation to open a Workshop for Media Practitioners on Gender Based Violence (GBV). What follows is a summary of some of my thoughts on the subject.   

While GBV can refer to violence directed against males as well as females, its most pervasive form in our country is the abuse of a woman by their male partners, which is one of the many findings contained in the 2012 Gender Based Violence Indicators Study that was carried by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs in collaboration with Gender Links Botswana.

The study, which was cited by President Khama in his latest State of the Nation Address, found that at least 67% of our women had experienced some form of gender based violence in their lifetime, while 44% of men admitted to having at some point perpetrated violence against women. This latter figure climbed to 48% when the same men were asked about violence that they had perpetrated on an intimate partner.

The study further revealed that 29% of the women surveyed had in the last twelve months experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Yet, during the same period only 1.2% of the women had reported cases of GBV to the police, evidence that the actual prevalence of GBV in our society is some 24 times higher than what appears in our crime statistics.

A further finding was that similar proportions of women (11.4%) and men (10.7%) reported having respectively experienced or perpetrated non-partner rape. Yet only one in nine of the women had ever reported cases of rape to the police, while only one in seven victims had sought medical attention.

Also in his most recent State of the Nation Address the President cited another, rather more encouraging report, the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index, which dovetails with other research that confirms that our country has made considerable progress towards achieving gender equality in a number of critical areas. While in the overall index we were ranked 51 out of 142 countries, in terms of female participation in the economy we were in 8th position in the world.

It is this contrast between the incidence of GBV and various indicators of gender equality that underscores the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide” nature of our gender relations. When looking at issues such as the workplace and educational attainment we do rank among the best in the world, ahead of most of Europe as well as elsewhere in Africa.

Add to this seeming conundrum the insistence on the part of some of our elders that GBV is at a much higher level today than in the past (which is at least partially supported by reported age cohort variations in personal experience as well as historic data in terms of serious assault, rape and homicide) and we are left with a real dilemma as to where we are really going as a society. Can it be that we are somehow both regressing and progressing at the same time?

The answer arguably lies in our social attitudes. The 2012 GBV indicators study, for example, found that while 83.1% of women and 81.9% of the men agreed that “people should be treated the same whether they are male or female”; 78.5% of the same women and 88.9% of the same men also asserted that “a woman should obey her husband.”

If GBV, notwithstanding an assumption of past underreporting, is actually rising might this in part be due to a deep-seeded popular reaction to rapid social change overtaking our social norms?  In seeking an answer, one of the valuable roles media can play is to reflect upon and further serve as a platform to interrogate social change. This moves us beyond questions of media ethics to the harder task of uncovering societal truths through proactive investigative insight.

A common metaphor is that media is a reflection of society and thus society’s mirror for better understanding itself. When it comes to GBV, and indeed many other social ills, one may wonder to what extent do publishers really seek, much less find such understanding. In so far as commercial media is driven by popular demand and taste, by the same token to what extent do we as media consumers actually want to see ourselves as we really are?

Thankfully when it comes to GBV the need for change is not contested. What is questionable is the extent to which local social phenomenon can be understood, much less overcome through analysis that is not rooted in indigenous understanding. For example words like patriarchy are often casually applied by outsiders to indigenous societies in our region without either a clear definition or reference to what may be considered to be parallel phenomenon, e.g. ‘matriarchy’.

What should be clear is that we cannot talk about GBV in Botswana without considering its indigenous cultural context, which is different from predominate Euro-North American perspectives. Logic of circumstance therefore dictates that any informed debate ought to driven by local, indigenous media.

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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