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Are Batswana truly still a tolerant people?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima


For decades, Botswana has been, rightly so, internationally acclaimed as a beacon of democracy, characterized by, among other admirable attributes, tolerance, peace and unity. This has been our pride as a nation. It is because of this that we have, like a zebra, earned our stripes among the community of nations. This has indeed been our asset; our bargaining power; our leverage in international relations and diplomacy.

Truth be told, it is because of this asset that we have been able to have a seat at tables we ordinarily would not have had a seat at considering the size of our population and the fact that we are a land locked country. Our peaceful nature, predicated on the virtues of Botho, tolerance and unity which are the hallmarks of our being as a people, has made us strategic in as far as the world’s geo-politics is concerned.

Yet, signs are beginning to emerge which show an erosion on this asset we have. For the first time since I was born, I am beginning to ask myself whether we, as a people, are truly still tolerant of one another. By its very definition, tolerance entails broad mindedness; open mindedness; and acceptance. Put simply, it entails accepting others inspite of such differences as race, tribe, gender, religion, political opinion, etc.

Take the case of the former President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama for instance. Granted, as a result of his rule, and even his conduct after his retirement, our country has become very polarized. But this does not warrant the abuse he has received from some of our people, especially through social media. What else can a comment that suggests that Dr. Khama is not a real Motswana and should go back to England be ascribed to other than racism?

We may differ with Dr. Khama and even admonish him for his leadership failures, but I think it will be wrong for anyone to be so intolerant of his familial origin and skin color as to question his patriotism. Take the case of Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Simply because she decided to exercise her democratic right to challenge His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Keabetswe Eric Masisi, for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidency she is being abused, especially in social media. Some have become so petty and desperate as to ridicule her looks.

What comes to the fore from this unfortunate abuse is the fact that her major sin is that she is a woman. This despite the fact that though, as a nation, we have our flaws in as far a gender equality is concerned, many nations look up to us. I was shocked when former president, Festus Mogae, during a recent interview with the Voice newspaper, stated that he is disappointed with Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s decision to challenge H.E Dr. Masisi.

According to him, Dr. Venson-Moitoi has defied the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s tradition that once elected a party president is not challenged for the duration of his constitutional term as state president which is an aggregate of ten years. The truth is that it is Mogae’s position which is disappointing for it shows lack of tolerance for Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s freedom to choose when to contest the elections. What is worse is that, in my view, the real reason why Mogae is opposed to Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s candidature is that she is a woman.

Regrettably, Mogae’s views were echoed by former Speaker of the National Assembly, Matlapeng Ray Molomo. The other case that shows lack of tolerance among our people is that of the former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Colonel Isaac Kgosi. Following his arrest by members of the DISS, among them his successor, Brigadier Peter Magosi, this week, those who expressed a sympathetic view towards him, and his family were mercilessly abused through social media.

Insults, some of which bothered on tribalism and sexism, were hurled at fellow Batswana for merely asking whether it was necessary for the arrest to be done in such a dramatic manner which likely violated his right to dignity. Only the opinions of those opposed to Kgosi mattered. The other people’s opinions did not matter. In fact, they were labelled as traitors and hypocrites who at one time called for Kgosi’s arrest, but now masqueraded as human rights champions.

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was criticized for stating that it is against the holly wood style arrest of any citizen, including Kgosi. But, what the UDC sought to do was to emphasize that while Kgosi’s arrest may be a welcome development, it has to be done in such a manner that does not violate his rights. Granted, Kgosi’s reign as DISS Director General was very divisive and he possibly has a case to answer for some of the allegations levelled against him, but that does not mean that he has no rights as a human being. Like all of us, he has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Even if he is prosecuted and convicted, most of his human rights remain inviolable, some inalienable. The only rights to be limited by the state will be his rights to liberty and freedom of movement, provided that such limitation shall be reasonable. In my view, a nation’s human right record should not be judged by how well it treats its best of citizens, but by how well it treats all its citizens, including the worst. It is very easy to abandon virtue when dealing with those we regard as less virtuous, yet true virtue applies to all, even society’s outcasts.

My fear is that this rising degree of intolerance will imperil our peace and stability, thereby eroding our democracy. Unfortunately, it takes long to attain a state of peace and stability, but it takes a short time to destroy it and plummet into civil strife and war. It takes a few rogue soldiers and elements who are sympathetic to Dr. Khama or Kgosi, for instance, to attempt to overthrow the government, something which will forever affect our peace and stability.

Granted, the attempt may be foiled and fail, but its impact on our image globally will have far reaching implications as we will no longer be regarded as a peaceful country. Once that happens, such terrorist organizations as ISIS may take advantage and infiltrate us. According to Sunday Standard and the Botswana Gazette’s online editions, on Thursday, 17th January 2019, gun shots were fired after a pursuit of men who appeared to have been making a reconnaissance of Brigadier Magosi’s house fled and later abandoned their vehicle, resulting in one arrest.

This comes after media reports last week that intelligence had been picked highlighting security risks on the lives of President Dr. Masisi and Brigadier Magosi, the result of which is reported to have been the upgrading of the president’s security detail by recruiting retired members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s special forces. The incident at Brigadier Magosi’s house is troubling in many respects. As some in social media have opined, it may have been staged by some in the DISS to give an excuse for it to crack down on suspected dissidents whom it suspects are aligned to Kgosi.

Alternatively, the incident may have been waged by someone in an effort to implicate Kgosi, especially in view of media reports that, during his arrest at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport this week, he made a statement that he will topple this government. In my view, it is very unlikely that the incident was waged by Kgosi or his associates. But either way it is troubling since it poses a security threat not only to functionaries of the state’s intelligence agencies, but also to the president himself.

The danger is that the incident, if not properly handled, may result in similar incidents or retaliatory incidents, something which may compel the government to declare a state of emergency. As you probably know, states of emergency forever cripple a country’s fiber since they have the effect of causing further civil strife. Our progenitors have bequeathed upon us an invaluable and timeless lesson that mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe. This adage, which promotes freedom of expression and speech, is at the heart of the virtue of tolerance.

Our forerunners have also bequeathed upon us the adage kgosi thotobolo e olela matlakala. Its morale is that a leader should be accommodative of all his or her subjects for they vary in make and character. Therefore, President Dr. Masisi has a decisive role to play at this time when our country is at cross roads. His is to put country above party; Batswana above BDP members; peace above positions and to unify our country, the pride of the world.

But it is not H.E Masisi’s duty alone. We too as citizens can, in our own little way, start by tolerating one another and avoiding divisive commentary, especially on public platforms. We should not underestimate the damage that one divisive tweet or Face Book post can cause. We live in a golden age where such ills as racism, xenophobia, tribalism and sexism have no place. These, together with other vices, are not a legacy we can be proud to bequeath to our future generations.

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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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