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Through the Human Eye

Batlhalefi Leagajang
Through the Eyes of an Ordinary Man

While still a Journalist I enjoyed writing about ordinary people living ordinary lives and the good deeds they did to the society. I have written life changing stories that many might not remember because they were not controversial. Though I might have failed in my quest to touch people’s lives positively through my writings, I wanted to write about stories that affect the ordinary man on the streets.

 

I wanted to write about the security guard at the ATM who helps even the most educated man operate an ATM and never gets appreciation. I wanted to write about a bus driver who ensures that we arrive at our work places safely every day and never get a thank you from his passengers. I wanted to bring to light the plight of a woman who cleans public toilets as well as those in the office buildings and never gets recognition form those she serves.

 

Think of a man or woman that control and directs an aircraft to the apron after it lands, he/she might have not gone with school and they have t communicate with a pilot who understands aviation language and a little mistake in this communication can result in disaster. Whoever says thank you to this person upon disembarkation?  Unfortunately those are not stories that sell a newspaper no matter how beautiful or touching they are. People want political scandals, stories about who was seen leaving a hotel room with whose spouse and so on as headline stories. I hope with this column I will be able to bring to light these people and cultivate the spirit of appreciation for these people from the society.


I want to thank the Editor of this newspaper Aubrey Lute who once worked under my Editorship for offering me space when I posted about the same subject on Facebook and those who asked me have the post as my inaugural piece. In this instalment I want to appreciate a man I have never met but whose voice has become synonymous with Radio Botswana’s Around The World Today, Programme.

 

This man’s voice has for decades reverberated on this national radio station giving us stories about East Africa which I have always found informative. I bet I am not the only one who has much appreciation for Dr James Shimanyula from Kenya. Of course there are others who I will write about some day. These are the likes of Dice Muvavarirwa from Harare Zimbabwe, Fred Chela, Lusaka Zambia, Stuart Chela,Mbanane Swaziland,  Hilda Kekelwa,Lusaka Zambia, Hilary Mbobe, Malawi, Keneilwe Tsotetsi from Maseru Lesotho and Robin Njogu from Kenya amongst others.


One interesting thing that comes to mind is his voice when he says the names of countries with his hoarse and deep voice, dragging the names as if that is how they are pronounced. “……The political situation in the countries such as Burundiiiiiii, Angolaaa, Ugandaaaa, needs much attention. Reporting for Around The World Today, James Shimanyula, Nairobi Kenya.” I searched for their contacts on Facebook and I managed to get hold of James Shimanyula and getting him to grant me the interview was such as easy thing.


“Although I am an extremely busy person to the extent that I have no time to answer hundreds of people who send me emails requiring same details like the ones you are seeking from me, I am answering your questions now though tersely.” This was the opening line of his response which I am happy to say was within an hour of sending him the questionnaire.


To many, it will come as a shock the James is 71 years old. By African standards he could have retired about 20 years ago and now serving as a President and still seeking a third term or being one of the young lions of some political movement or in Cabinet still harbouring the ambitions of being a President.


But James has been a journalist for more than forty years and currently he works as a freelance journalist for several international radio stations. I was surprised to learn that he is not aware that his stories run on Radio Botswana’s Around The World Today. He said perhaps the station gets stories that he contributes to Channel Africa in South Africa. “I cover all areas that fall under the huge tree of journalism,” he said.


Asked if he will someday visit Botswana so that he sees the radio Station that features his stories and so that the people that have followed him over the four decades on this side of the continent may get a glimpse of him, James said he may visit Botswana in the days to come. As if he knew that I am a prayerful man he added, “Just pray for me.”


There is another category of people that are 71 years of age. They are age bent citizens who are either enjoying their retirement benefits or at least get the meagre old age pensions granted by their governments. But James is still going strong and he has been able to hold on to the profession because he takes great care of himself. He says for 45 years he has never taken tea with sugar and eaten food with salt. He is a vegetarian and he does exercises twice daily for physical fitness. This, he has been doing this for over 40 years.


In this age of social media where citizen journalism seems to be threatening the work of journalists I asked him what advise he could give to young reporters who find themselves at times consumed by social media to a point where they use it as a source, he supported an argument I once put forward on Facebook which earned me the wrath of some journalists. He argues that good journalists should not spend many hours on Facebook. “As you have said rightly, they become lazy.”


He also advises young people in journalism to always speak to veteran journalists – either retired or still in the field to learn more. Just like many East Africans he treats the former colonial master’s language with so much respect something he wants Journalists to follow. “As a Journalist If you think your English is not good, go back to class and if not attend debates on various topics either in schools or borrow a leaf from little-known and well-known professionals especially when they make speeches at public rallies.”


James is an author of dozens of books for general reading, high schools and university and over the years he has edited hundreds of manuscripts. He describes himself as a literature guru and historian. Needless to say, “I am also a playwright, poet and screenwriter.” concluded James. Batlhalefi Leagajang is a former Editor of The Botswana Gazette, a Media and PR Consultant, a Entrepreneur and a Liberal Politician.

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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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