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Increasing church membership from 10 to 250 is not unconstitutional!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

That the Bill which seeks to, among other things, raise the minimum number of people required to register a religious organization from ten to two hundred and fifty, has caused national controversy is an understatement. In this article, I discuss the matter in view of its constitutional implications. Firstly, however, I give an exposition of the arguments for and against the proposed amendment.


Those in support of the proposed amendment argue that ten is such a small number that one can easily gather a few people, even relatives, to form a church. This, they argue, has led to a proliferation of churches because people start churches, not because they are ‘called’ by God, but because they are motivated by greed and the desire to profit from the congregants’ tithes and other contributions. Besides, the UCCSA’s Reverend Dumi Mmualefe asks rhetorically, how do we really know whether or not one has been truly ‘called’ by God to form a new church?


Proponents of the proposed amendment claim that the ‘new’ churches seldom have any doctrinal or spiritual difference from the original churches. In fact, the proponents argue, such ‘new’ churches even adopt names similar to the original churches. They give such examples as ‘Deeper Christian Life Ministries’ and ‘Forward in Faith’ which they claim are offshoots of ‘Christian Life Ministries’ and ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’ respectively.


Money and power, they argue, is the source of this evil. According to them, the multiplicity of churches, especially within the charismatic, Pentecostal and African Independent movement is evidence of this. It is because of this, they claim, that the leaders of most of these splinter churches, most of which operate from offices, residential homes and tents, are foreigners, some of who were not even Christians before coming to Botswana. After starting the ‘new’ church the leaders give themselves such high and undeserved titles as Archbishop, they say.    


These splits, the proponents argue, are against the church’s very essence of unity as the body of Christ. Reverend Mmualefe asserts that it is antithetical to Christianity for Christians to fail to, through prayer, call upon God to prevail and avoid splits. Prayer, they say, can assist true Christians to reconcile and use the conflict management and mediation skills endowed upon them by God Almighty to avoid fragmenting and hemorrhaging the body of Christ.


The proponents of the amendment argue that a true church cannot fail to have two hundred and fifty adherents nationally. Ten, they claim, is a number enough only for the church’s Executive Committee and an Executive Committee cannot function without the members. Some proponents of the amendment even call for the number to be increased. Justice, Defence and Security Minister, Honorable Shaw Kgathi, for example, says some of his constituents in Bobirwa were even extreme saying the threshold should be three hundred and fifty.


Those opposed to the amendment argue that there is no reason why the church should be discriminated from other societies whose requisite membership number remains ten. One of the exponents, Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB) leader Pastor Master Matlhaope, says if the Bill passes, it will be easier to form societies, some of them agents of the Devil, than it will be to form a church.

He says it is surprising for government and some people to be concerned about the proliferation of churches when they are not concerned about the proliferation of such institutions of the Devil as bars and bottle stores. According to the exponents, even if some churches may not be completely forthright it is better to have many churches than many bars and bottle stores.


According to the exponents of the amendment, provided one is called by God to form a new church, no one should stand in his or her way since he or she will not only be standing in God’s way, but also violating such person and his or her prospective followers’ freedoms of religion. Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, agrees. It is the latter, they argue, which makes the proposed amendment not only sacrilegious, but also unconstitutional.


Gaborone Bonnington South Member of Parliament (MP), Honorable Ndaba Gaolathe, says because Botswana has many settlements with populations of less than two hundred, the proposed amendment will effectively deny them the freedom of religion since they cannot form a church. He also argues that the proposed amendment, if passed, will violate the people’s freedom to express their spirituality. While Government says the amendment is intended to, among other things, prevent the proliferation of unscrupulous “prophets”, Hon. Gaolathe says some of the finest men and women in Botswana have been made through a foundation in churches with less than two hundred and fifty congregants.


This proposed amendment discriminates the Christian faith, they argue, because the onerous two hundred and fifty threshold is not applicable to such other religions found in Botswana as Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. They wonder whether the self-enrichment, fraud and proliferation, which are associated with Christianity, are non-existent within such religions. This, according to them, is evidence of the neo-colonial attitude where, as Africans, we ascribe malady to our own institutions and assume that foreign bred institutions are impervious to malaise.


The exponents of the amendment argue that even if the threshold of ten promotes the proliferation of churches and encourages self-enrichment and fraud as claimed, Parliament should address those not by trampling on the people’s constitutional right, but by putting in place administrative mechanisms to combat such. For example, Pastor Matlhaope argues that the Registrar of Societies should be capacitated to regularly monitor churches, even by using random inspections, unlike now when the Registrar only relies on the Annual Returns filed by the churches.


Gabane/Mankgodi MP, Pius Mokgware, says though he agrees that Botswana is flooded by ‘economic missionaries’, the proposed amendments will not solve the problem. On the contrary, he claims, it will breed corruption since the law will be difficult to enforce. Not only that, he says. It will result in the mushrooming of illegal churches.  


Exponents also argue that Parliament can address such maladies as self-enrichment, fraud and the proliferation of churches by establishing and strengthening an oversight body which, as the Bill provides elsewhere, will combat such ills through such dispute resolution mechanisms as conciliation, mediation and arbitration. If these fail, they argue, such punitive measures as fines and de-registration can be resorted to. In this way, they contend, punishment will, as it should, follow a transgression, unlike the proposed amendment which seeks to punish before any transgression is occasioned.


While the religious and socio-economic arguments for and against the proposed amendment are persuasive, I wish to focus on the constitutional implications of the proposed amendment. In terms of section 11(1) of the Constitution, “except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”


The question is: does setting any threshold (either ten or two hundred and fifty) for the formation of a religious organization violate freedom of religion? I say any threshold because if two hundred and fifty is said to be unconstitutional, ten can equally be said to be unconstitutional because those who cannot attain it can similarly contend that their freedom of religion has been violated. In my view, if one person’s circumstances are such that he or she can reasonably be able to form or belong to a religious organization the threshold notwithstanding, there would be no violation of freedom of religion.

Conversely, if another person’s circumstances are such that he or she cannot reasonably be able to form or belong to a religious organization because of the threshold, there would be violation of freedom of religion. Therefore, it cannot be true that the proposed amendment will per se violate freedom of religion. Each case will be judged on its own merits.


Also, to decide on the proposed amendment’s constitutionality we ought to consider section 11’s limitation clause at subsection (5) which says “nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision which is reasonably required (a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practice any religion without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion, and except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.


In my view, a threshold for the formation of any organization including a religious organization is reasonably required (a) in the interests of public order or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons. A threshold is, therefore, reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Whether the threshold is ten or two hundred and fifty is a policy matter which should be a preserve of the Executive and both the Legislature and Judicature should be reluctant to interfere with it. In fact, there is no need for a definitive number to be set in an Act of Parliament. Such should be left to such secondary legislation as regulations which can be amended with ease.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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