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Oh what a tangled we weave

Stuart White

You’ve probably heard the expression ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’, meaning that by always telling the truth you take the moral high ground and follow the teachings of the Lord.  After all, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’ is the 9th Biblical commandment in Christianity and Judaism and a common precept in all major religions.  Ergo, telling the truth is holy, lying is the work of the devil.  

It’s a lesson we all learned at our parents’ knees and was reinforced in Sunday School and proper school.  We were taught that telling the truth would never get us into trouble (not strictly accurate in every instance!) and lying would always result in tears before bedtime (again, not necessarily the case!)  but it’s a good moral starting point at any rate.

But as we grew older we learned that sometimes the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is not always called for; not that you have to tell lies necessarily, just that the withholding of certain information is sometimes expedient; that sometimes the whole story is on a ‘need to know basis’ and you get to decide who precisely needs to know and what and how much information they need to be drip-fed.

Then there’s the ‘white lie’. This is a social convention whereby you tell a little fib to spare someone’s feelings or simply make a situation easier.   Telling your best friend that she looks lovely in that dress or his full-arm tattoo is absolutely in the best of taste, for example; or telling your boss you had a flat tyre rather than the real reason that you were late was that you overslept.  Again!

So on the face of it, it would appear that we transition from truthful children to slightly less truthful adults, the Matilda’s of this world notwithstanding.  (she was the young lady in Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary poem who simply loved to invent stories, including calling out half the fire brigades in London when she pretended that her aunt’s house was on fire and was ultimately hoist by her own petard a little while later when the house really did catch fire but no-one would believe her and thus she perished in the ensuing domestic inferno – you have to admit that children’s stories were more graphic back in the day!)

However, according to a new study, the transition from utter truthfulness to some sort of partially-accurate expediency comes much earlier than we might think.  

Researchers from McGill University analyzed the behaviour of nearly 100 children between the ages of six and 12.  The children were each shown a series of short videos featuring childlike puppets which either told the truth or lied and the outcome of these decisions varied.  In some scenarios, telling a lie would cause harm to another character, while in others, a lie intended to help someone else would have a negative outcome for the speaker.

The researchers also showed videos of puppets telling different truths – including ‘tattling’ – highlighting how these can harm someone as well.

Then, the kids were asked to decide if the characters were being honest or deceitful, and choose whether those particular behaviours should be rewarded or punished.

The conclusions were thus:

Children of all ages could distinguish between truth and lies

Younger children more often saw truth as good, despite consequences

This could be seen even in cases of 'tattling,' where truth caused harm

Older children considered the intent and outcome of situations insteadʉ۬

‘Looking at how children see honesty and deceit is a way of gaining insight into different stages of moral and social development,’ said Victoria Talwar, a Canada Research Chair in McGill’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology.

‘Children get a lot of messages from their parents saying that lying is always bad, but at the same time they see their parents telling ‘white lies’ to make life easier. Depending on their age, this is likely to be a bit confusing for children.

‘We were interested in gaining a more nuanced picture of children’s perceptions of truth and lies – since not all lies have negative consequences for the other person, and not all truths have positive consequences for someone else. We were curious to know at what age children start to understand this.’

Overall, the children were easily able to distinguish between truth and lies, regardless of age.  In deciding which behaviours to reward or condemn, however, the researchers noted two significant differences among the age groups.

When assessing a ‘false confession’ scenario, in which a character would claim responsibility for another character’s misdeed to spare the real perpetrator, the younger children were more likely to view this as negative behaviour than older kids.

A similar trend was seen in the case of tattling.  While younger children were less concerned with the negative consequences of truth-telling, older children were often conflicted. Telling a small lie to spare someone from bad feelings may seem like the right thing to do, but ask a young child, and your actions might not be considered so virtuous.

‘What we were seeing is children’s confusion around particular kinds of truths and lies,’ says Shanna Mary Williams. ‘Younger children see things more starkly – truths are good and lies are bad.

But by the time they are 10-12 years old, children become more aware that truth and lies are less binary.  The older they are, the more interested children are in the consequences of these actions. They are also more able to start looking at the intentions behind the speech.’

So it would appear that our ‘white lie’ mechanism begins to kick in at the pre-teen stage, both from the selfish, self-preservation aspect and the somewhat more selfless ‘sparing someone’s feelings’ angle. 

So a modern-day Moses, on being handed down the tablet of stone with its 10 commandments, might look at the 9th and pose the question “But what if my wife asks ‘does my bum look big in this?’ and it does, how should I answer her, Lord?” 

To which the only response He could give would be to tell him to make sure Mrs. Moses had read and fully understood the 6th Commandment* before he passed comment’!  Personally I would add ‘then head for the hills’!

* Author’s note:  6th Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ 

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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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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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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