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Son of Serowe, Man of the World

Jeff Ramsay

This week's edition coincides with the final laying too rest of the late Mompati Merafhe. Having written about the General last week, one had contemplated another topic. But, beyond the fact that that the passing of the former Vice President has to an extent overshadowed other issues, the national conversation on his long and distinguished career is a reminder not only of how far the son of Sebogodi came in life, but also how far this nation has travelled with him on his journey.

In an interview with one radio station this past week I was pressed about presumed swings in his relations with the media. It was suggested that he had been aloof from the press, before embracing it, only to pull back a bit in his later years. I had a different perspective.

It is undoubtedly true that Merafhe's relationship with the media, like that of virtually all public figures, evolved over time. When he served as first commander of BDF (1977-89) his professional role was different from that of the politician and Cabinet Minister he would subsequently become. But, perhaps more significantly so was the nature and intensity of the security challenges then facing our country.

Those who have come to maturity in the era since the freeing of South Africa can only have a historical, as opposed to experienced, understanding of the extreme pressure Botswana was under, of the tightrope Batswana walked, in the years when the nation was emerging in the shadow of the Apartheid regime.

Botswana's freedom before 1994 was real but not secure. Below the surface there was gnawing tension derived from the knowledge that violence from across the border could descend on our otherwise peaceful society at any time. And of course at times it did.

One person asked me this week how it was possible for Merafhe to have instantly become a General without the benefit of promotion through lower ranks. This shows a lack of understanding of the role he played in the police, ultimately heading its paramilitary forces before the formation of the BDF.

The seventeen years that Merafhe served in the police (1960-77) coincided with the period in which Botswana played a crucial role as a place of refuge and transit for those fleeing not only Apartheid in Namibia as well as South Africa, but also colonialism, racism and proxy conflict in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola and Lesotho. In the process the sovereignty of the country, even before independence was declared, was repeatedly challenged.

Through his competence, an emotional intelligence that drew from his qualities of discipline, diligence and ability to engage with all types of people, Merafhe had thus begun to emerge as a calm, strong man at the centre of the regional storm even before he became the BDF's founding commander.

One may also ponder the extent that environment shaped the man. Like many of his generation, Merafhe was already in his mid-teens when he finally had the opportunity to enrol in school back in 1952. Remembered as an outstanding pupil who quickly mastered written and spoken English, he progressed rapidly through what was then Sub A and B as well as Standards 1-6 before having to give up his studies in 1958 due to the untimely death of his father. As the only son it fell on his shoulders to look after the family.

Yet as limited as his initial schooling was by today's standards it nonetheless set him apart from most of his peers. It was in this context that he found vocational opportunity, including additional academic training, in the police. It also puts into perspective the late Vice President's subsequent tireless championing of education, we are told within his own family, as well as at community and national level.

When General Merafhe retired from the army in 1989 to be Specially Elected as a Member of Parliament and appointed as the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration at least some may have been surprised at his ability to transform in both image and substance from the aloof, austere General to the gregarious politician. His military and police colleges, however, can testify that his people skills were already well refined only to be adapted to the different context of political life.

His political skills were confirmed 1994 when he won the Mahalapye parliamentary seat, where he was subsequently re-elected on three more occasions. After the 1994 election he also left the Presidential portfolio to begin his service as Botswana's heretofore longest serving Foreign Minister.

As the country's top diplomat he also made his mark as an international statesman, who was entrusted with an increasing number of international assignments. These included serving as a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which he also came to chair (1998-2002); and President in the Office of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States (2003-04).

During Botswana's tenure as President of the Security Council in 1995, Merafhe notably presided over the Security Council Resolution 976, which paved the way for the deployment of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM III) that finally brought an end to the conflict in that country.

What was his motivation? Perhaps beyond his love of family and country, embracing citizens of all ages and walks of life, it was the fact that he was a man who loved life itself. May he rest in peace.

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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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