A wise man once said when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers meaning that the weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful. In most cases ‘the elephants’ do not even notice the catastrophic consequences on the weak.
A year ago, the country witnessed one of the biggest corporate fights which involved the Choppies founding Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ramachandran ‘Ram’ Ottapathu and the then board that was led by former President Festus Mogae who was the Choppies Group Chairman. September is the anniversary of the historic Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) that left Botswana in awe of unprecedented legal and corporate drama.
The fight was mainly catapulted by the suspension of Choppies from the local bourse and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on account of the company’s auditors PwC’s inability to finalize the 2018 financial statements due to alleged ‘irregularities.’ This led to Ram getting suspended as the Choppies CEO and was immediately followed by an EGM where Ram won against the board that had suspended him.
For over a year the business stewed in quagmire during the CEO’ suspension. Value tumbled, millions evaporated in value. Business was torn apart in the court of public opinion. Its once grand and mighty appeal shrunk into oblivion.
A former states man was in one corner with the colossal Botswana Public Officers Pensions Fund (BPOPF) with other fund managers, Ram and his trusted lieutenants on the other. It was a true battle of corporate’s high and mighty.
On the 5th of September 2019 Ram was cast into a nightmare, a marathon of presentations had no Ram sympathizer. However how he won is still a mystery to many who had a cast of his entrepreneurial tombstone ready. Given where we are now, the company lost value. Huge expenses were incurred too as a result of a huge spike in board fees for the case – investigations, payments of consultants for forensics legal and financial, suspension of CEO with no clear retail experience in the board. Was it worth it?
Shareholders voted to oust almost all of the former board members, who had pitted themselves against Ram after a series of investigations into alleged business malpractices at the retailer.
The boardroom fight was epic to watch, it was even documented and packaged as a film documentary titled the Ram- fication but the result exposed a fundamental flaw in the strategy of the outgoing board. How could they lose after 10-hour long presentations to shareholders? Ram speech did not even last more than five minutes. Keith Jefferies is quoted in Rami-fication documentary saying that there is a growing demand for more from board members when they are performing their fiducial duties on behalf of shareholders for listed entities.
One might say they were quick to turn on Ram when it was convenient. Wy didn’t institutional investors ask for a succession plan before the huge investments? Why would the allegations seem new yet they were murmurings on Choppies form the general public years before the investigations?
Giving expert opinion on a clip of the film documentary economist and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Botswana Keith Jefferies stated that the board put too much reliance on Ram which is dangerous for a board to do especially on a big entity such as Choppies, “the board put too much reliance on Ram to run the company single handedly, it is dangerous for a business to rely one person. Investors and shareholders should have been more active. Board members have a serious responsibility to hold management accountable and read documents thoroughly,” said Jefferies who spoke of activist shareholders being a growing phenomenon of accountability.
Another economic expert who is a senior partner at one of the leading auditing companies in the country stated that the boardroom fight was not worth it mostly because it wasted the public’s time and number of people lost their job in the process only for Ram to win the case against a board that had suspended him and had engaged a number of legal proceedings that found him innocent.
This expert opinion visibly shows what was not done, what needed to be done properly and who was not actively working when they were supposed to be. The question still remains, was the fight worth it after so much resources where utilized?
Some independent investigations and other experts revealed that Ram was suspended as a consequence of personal differences with some members of the board and retaliation for his proposal to introduce a much-needed governance change within Choppies.
With a fresh board Choppies has returned on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE). Succession seems to be on track. The hurt from the past may force the current board to dig deeper and ask the right questions on behalf of shareholders and Choppies’ business constituents. May be, just may be everything was for the right outcome. Ram will be measured in his expansion and ambitions and will not want to repeat the inconvenience and the shame that his business attracted. As the majority shareholder, he has a lot to lose and so do pensioners who are represented through institutional investors.
An international report complied in South Africa dubbed ‘Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana’ says that the transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana live a miserable life. The community experiences higher levels of discrimination, violence and ill health.
In this report, it has been indicated that this is because their gender identity, which does not conform to narrowly define societal norms, renders them more vulnerable. Gender identity is a social determinant of health, which means that it is a factor that influences people’s health via their social context, their communities and their experiences of social exclusion. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recognized this, and transgender people are considered a vulnerable population under the Botswana Second National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010-2017.
In a recent study that shed light on the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana, transgender persons often experience discrimination because of their gender identity and expression. The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town, LEGABIBO, BONELA, as well as Rainbow Identity Association and approved by the Health Ministry as well as the University of Botswana.
Of the 77 transgender and gender non-conforming people who participated in the study, less than half were employed. Two thirds, which is approximately 67% said that they did not have sufficient funds to cover their everyday needs. Two in five had hidden health concerns from their healthcare provider because they were afraid to disclose their gender identity.
More than half said that because of their gender identity, they had been treated disrespectfully at a healthcare facility (55%), almost half (46%) said they had been insulted at a healthcare facility, and one quarter (25%) had been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.
At the same time, the ‘Are we doing right’ study suggests that transgender and non-conforming people might be at higher risks of experiencing violence and mental ill-health, compared to the general population. More than half had experienced verbal embarrassment because of their gender identity, 48% had experienced physical violence and more than one third (38%) had experienced sexual violence.
The study showed that mental health concerns were high among transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana. Half of the transgender and gender non-conforming study participants (53%) showed signs of depression. Between one in four and one in six showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (22% among transgender women, 24% among transgender men and 17% among gender non-conforming people).
Further, the study revealed that many had attempted suicide: one in three transgender women (32%), more than one in three transgender men (35%) and three in five gender non-conforming people (61%).
International research, as well as research from Botswana, suggests that not being able to change one’s gender marker has a negative impact on access to healthcare and mental health and wellbeing. The study further showed that one in four transgender people in Botswana (25%) had been denied access to healthcare. This is, at least in part, linked to not being able to change one’s gender marker in the identity documents, and thus not having an identity document that matches one’s gender identity and gender expression.
In its Assessment of Legal and Regulatory Framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis, the Health Ministry noted that “transgender persons in Botswana are unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity, which is a barrier to health services, including in the context of HIV. In one documented case, a transwoman’s identity card did not reflect her gender identity- her identity card photo indicated she was ‘male’. When she presented her identity card at a health facility, a health worker called the police who took her into custody.”
The necessity of a correct national identity document goes beyond healthcare. The High Court of Botswana explains that “the national identity document plays a pivotal role in every Motswana’s daily life, as it links him or her with any service they require from various institutions. Most activities in the country require every Motswana to produce their identity document, for identification purposes of receiving services.”
According to the Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana report, this effectively means that transgender, whose gender identity and expression is likely to be different from the sex assigned to them at birth and from what is recorded on their identity document, cannot access services without risk of denial or discrimination, or accusations of fraud.
In this context, gays and lesbians advocacy group LEGABIBO has called on government through the Department of Civil and National Registration to urgently implement the High Court rulings on gender marker changes. As stated by the High Court in the ND vs Attorney General of Botswana judgement, identity cards (Omang) play an important role in the life of every Motswana. Refusal and or delay to issue a Motswana with an Omang is denying them to live a complete and full-filing life with dignity and violates their privacy and freedom of expression.
The judgement clarified that persons can change their gender marker as per the National Registrations Act, so changing the gender marker is legally possible. There is no need for a court order. It further said the person’s gender is self-identified, there is no need to consult medical doctors.
LEGABIBO also called on government to develop regulations that specify administrative procedure to change one’s gender marker, and observing self-determination process. Further, the group looks out for government to ensure members of the transgender community are engaged in the development of regulations.
“We call on this Department of Civil and National Registration to ensure that the gender marker change under the National Registration Act is aligned to the Births and Deaths Registry Act to avoid court order.
Meanwhile, a gay man in Lobatse, Moabi Mokenke was recently viciously killed after being sexually violated in the streets of Peleng, shockingly by his neighbourhood folks. The youthful lad, likely to be 29-years old, met his fate on his way home, from the wearisome Di a Bowa taverns situated in the much populated township of Peleng Central.
CEO of Khato Civils Mongezi Mnyani has come out of the silence and is going all way guns blazing against the company’s adversaries who he said are hell-bent on tarnishing his company’s image and “hard-earned good name”
Speaking to WeekendPost from South Africa, Mnyani said it is now time for him to speak out or act against his detractors. Khato Civils has done several projects across Africa. Khato Civils, a construction company and its affiliate engineering company, South Zambezi have executed a number of world class projects in South Africa, Malawi and now recently here in Botswana.
About ten (10) Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidates who lost the 2019 general election and petitioned results this week met with UDC Vice President, Dumelang Saleshando to discuss the way forward concerning the quandary that is the legal fees put before them by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) lawyers.
For a while now, UDC petitioners who are facing the wrath of quizzical sheriffs have demanded audience with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC) but in vain. However after the long wait for a tete-a-tete with the UDC, the petitioners met with Saleshando accompanied by other NEC members including Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, Reverend Mpho Dibeela and Dennis Alexander.