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BDF kicks out COVID-19 positive recruits

BDF

After weeks of intensive physical fitness assessment embodied by 2.4km run, push-ups and sit- ups, and additional comprehensive medical examinations, aptitude tests and security vetting, some Botswana Defence Force (BDF) recruits were informed recently that the army hierarchy has decided to eject them because they tested positive for coronavirus.

The drastic news reached the would-be recruits a few days before they could transit to the six months long training base.

The affected candidates have expressed frustration at the move by army bosses, citing that they went through and satisfied the selection process only to be undone by a virus that has become endemic in the society.  “We have more questions than answers following this announcement by our army trainers,” said a recruit who spoke on condition of anonymity. Apparently the officers tasked with training the recruits could not comprehensively account for the decision because it “was an instruction from above”.

This publication has it on record that about 50 would-be recruits had to return home because they had tested positive for the virus. The main concern of these frustrated candidates is that COVID-19 was never listed as a disqualifying factor in the job adverts. They also point out that on account of the time they spent at the assessment centre, it is evident that they were free from the virus at the time of entry.

Detailing the ordeal, one of the recruits who preferred to be anonymous said they were assured that even if they could test positive for the virus, their space in the army would still be secured. “I tested positive following the PCR test, this was a few days before we could leave for the training base.

I then went into a 10 day isolation period at Sir Seretse Khama Barracks (SSKB). We were assured that the jobs are still ours and will travel to Pandamantenga (military training base) after 10 days. We were informed that a second test will be conducted clear us. To our surprise after the isolation period elapsed, we were told to pack our bags and go home, without further tests,” the would-be recruit narrated.

At the time they were told to go back home BDF had already deposited money into their bank accounts and provided them with other necessary resources needed at the barracks for training.

According to information sourced by this publication, the recruiting officers did not have answers when asked about the decision, instead they informed the recruits that it is an instruction from army bosses.

The dejected rejected recruits had no choice but to take their belongings and travel back to their homes. “We had to organize transport for ourselves, mind you we did not have cell-phones as they are prohibited at the training base. It was a struggle and imagine having to travel for more than 500km, this is unjust coming from a respected army like BDF,” an emotionally charged recruit revealed.

However, the decision to snub the positive trainees is supported by the former BDF Commander Lt Gen Gaolathe Galebotswe. He reasoned that this is done in the best interest of both the trainee and the group at large.

“You are tested to see if you are fit for a military training. When it is detected that there are conditions which may hamper your training, it is best they remove you because the BDF needs strong and fit candidates. The tests, if at all there are some who have been kicked out, are done not to ensure that the recruit is not put in danger or endangers others. It hurts when you are taken out, but it is done because by then you are still a candidate and you might bring the virus to a whole army.”

Galebotswe said there are no sinister or ulterior motives behind the decision, “because COVID-19 is a pandemic and at worst easily transmittable in a crowd hence the BDF is trying to protect lives.”

BDF recruitment has in the past attracted attention after reports emerged that some would-be recruits were not absorbed because of their HIV status as well as body tattoos. Some quarters opined that this was tantamount to discrimination.

However, the COVID-19 situation, as observed by Galebotswe, tallies with what the Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo has said in relation to HIV/AIDS amongst soldiers. He told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the virus could degrade readiness of the army.

Segokgo made the remarks last month when updating PAC Members who were concerned by allegations that some Batswana are denied the right to join the army because of their HIV status.

“I don’t get to know medical conditions of my officers, I just receive a notification of an officer being unfit for duty. I cannot and have never asked for their HIV status. I do not know whether recruits are denied the opportunity because of their HIV status. However, my responsibility is to produce an army that is ready to face different situations and HIV can degrade readiness,” Segokgo said.

However, he said there has been an argument that testing HIV positive does not mean that a person is sick adding that some of the investments in training officers are costly hence there is an argument against investing in someone who might soon be unavailable due to ill health.

With Botswana’s unemployment figures swelling despite government efforts to solve the problem, institutions such as the BDF usually receive large numbers of application as they are seen to be a gate way to employment. According to the latest update from Statistics Botswana, the youth unemployment rate went up by 1.9 percentage points over the period, from 30.5 percent to 32.4 percent.

“Unemployment rate went up by 1.3 percentage points, from 23.2 percent in quarter one of 2020, to 24.5 percent in quarter four 2020,” said the country’s Statistician General Burton Mguni.

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Dingake talks about gay rights in tribute to Kirby

11th January 2022
Dingake

Former High Court Judge Professor Key Dingake has made his opinion known about gay rights in a glowing tribute to his retired former colleague Justice Ian Kirby.

Late last month a panel of Court of Appeal (CoA) led by Judge Kirby upheld a 2019 High Court ruling that decriminalised same-sex relations and stroke down two sections in the penal code. In his seminal judgment, Justice Kirby said these sections served only to incentivize law enforcement agents to become keyhole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens.

In this case one Letsweletse Motshidiemang, a homosexual had instituted an application in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of Sections 164 (a) and 164 (c).

Paying tribute to Justice Kirby, Justice Dingake said overall the Kirby court was restrained and brilliant in its genre of conservatism. Judge Dingake said the case of Motshidiemang is evidence of the latter. “In a stroke of a pen, he ended the long and tortuous road to equality of gay people.

I was reminded of this long and tortuous road by a piece written by, Zackie Achmat, that indefatigable human right defender, recently, when he reflected on a union of gay men, one Khoi and the other a Dutch sailor, way back in 1735, who for their love for each other were brutally murdered,” Justice Dingake said.

He said in truth Botswana’s Constitution never denied the right to equality for gay men. It was society and the judges who did – some arguing that the time is not right to extend equality rights to gay persons – forgetting the self-evident truth that we are all born equal and that rights are not negotiable – not even with Judges.

“It ought to be remembered that the Motshidiemang case was similar to the case of Kanani that preceded it. Justice Kirby was part of the panel that sat in Kanani. In Kanani he agreed with the other Justices and refused to strike down the offensive legislation. The same legislation he struck down in Motshidiemang.

There is no doubt in my mind that Kanani was wrongly decided at the time, as several of my writings thereafter contended, having regard to the legal injunction to always interpret constitutional rights liberally and to treat the constitution as a living organism,” Justice Dingake wrote.

He added that in Kanani the Court of Appeal held back “our march to freedom for more than a decade – and perpetuated the suffering of gay persons as their being was criminalized based on an inaccurate and narrow reading of the Constitution”.

The truth of the matter is that, he said, our Constitution never denied gay persons the rights to equality and the right not to be discriminated against. “Some sections of society (may be the majority) and the bench did so. The bench did so because of the choices they exercised.

They chose to interpret the constitution restrictively, which is not permissible; they chose to be blown away by ‘public opinion’, which was not right, and they chose not read: ‘sexual orientation’, into section 15 of the constitution, which they could have done.”

Botswana’s Constitution he said commands that it be interpreted in a manner that saves humanity from the scourge of indignity – and with a sense of the future – and to secure the rights of generations yet to be born. It is always the duty of Judges to breathe life into the Constitution – and to effect the promise of the Constitution – by among other things rejecting the tyranny of the majority.

“Section 3, the principal section conferring fundamental human rights in Botswana has always been there. It was ignored in Kanani, and thankfully given effect to in Motshidiemang.  A big lesson here is the often overlooked fact: Judges matter! Who the Judge is may be life changing in any given matter.

When one considers the decision in Kanani and Motshidiemang, based on similar facts and the diametrically opposed conclusions, one may be given to think that may be: ‘the constitution is what the Judges say it is’, at any given time, as that brilliant luminary judge and scholar, Charles Evans Hughes (1862 -1948) LLD, once ruminated.”

Interestingly, Judge Dingake wrote about homosexuality more than 12 years ago in his book ‘Key Aspects of the Constitutional Law of Botswana’. Justice Dingake expressed his views on what was said then to what was said in the recent judgment.

In that book, he began the debate by stating that homosexual issues are not frequently debate in Botswana. “Empirically, the extent of homosexual tendencies is not known. In any event the phenomenon does not appear to be widespread,” the Judge wrote.

He said serious debate however cropped up sometime around August 1995, after president Robert Mugabe’s much publicized anti homosexuals speech at the Harare International Book Show. Even then, he said, the debate was only confined to a small circle of intellectuals, with the broader community generally contemptuous and not willing to engage in serious debate about the issue.

“Although the intellectual community is by no means unanimous, there are some voices, particularly emanating from the University of Botswana, that are calling for equal treatment for homosexuals. Despite the enormous capacity of such arguments to court controversy general response of the public was one of cynicism. This general lack of interest among the general populace contrasts sharply with the enthusiasm and interest on the issue, just across the border, in South Africa, where there are numerous homosexual associations,” he said.

He explained that the South African Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which has paved the way for homosexuals to be employed in the army, an advance that is unparalleled in modern democracies. He also explained that Botswana’s criminal law prohibits consenting adults of the same sex from having a sexual relationship, because that is said to be unnatural.

“Within the framework of Botswana’s Constitution there can be no doubt that the prohibition of sexual relationships between consenting male adults of the same sex is unconstitutional. No free society can, in this era, afford to treat its citizens differently on the basis that is patently irrational.

Every individual, is in terms of the Constitution equal before law and has the right of equal benefit of the law without discrimination. The legal recognition of homosexuals will confirm Botswana as a democratic country that is advancing with time.”

He added that it needs to be said that it is however fruitless to bury “our heads in the sand and hope the issue will disappear for good”. He concluded: “In time we will have to confront the issue head on. In time blind prejudice that stigmatizes homosexual relationships will have to stand up to rational scrutiny. It is advisable not too turn a blind eye to the pain of discrimination suffered by few of our fellow countrymen and women. In a democracy it is unacceptable that the majority should oppress the minority”.

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Electricity prices could go up

11th January 2022
BERA CEO - Rose Seretse

Consumers could pay more for electricity this year, as the government owned power producer, Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) plans to increase prices for electricity by 5% with effect from the 1st of April 2022.

BPC recent statement on tariff adjustment shows that with the planned 5% increase in electricity tariffs, electricity prices per kWh could increase by 111 thebe for household users, 226 thebe for government, 148 thebe for commercial businesses and 111 thebe for the mining sector.

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Botswana GDP in upward trajectory as economy recovers

11th January 2022
Peggy Serame & President Masisi

Botswana economy is registering growth as the country emerges from one of its worsts economic recessions since independence, following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

In late December 2021 Statistics Botswana released the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for the third quarter of 2021.

The nominal GDP for the third quarter of 2021 was P49, 260.5 million compared to P48, 684.0 million registered during the previous quarter. This represents a quarterly increase of 1.2 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

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