The United Nations Common Country Analysis report for Botswana says women, members of the LGBTIQ community, people living with disabilities, indigenous people and detained people face power imbalances within Botswana’s society. This also includes migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, the poor, and those in rural areas.
These vulnerable groups face prejudice based on gender, ethnicity, national origin, income and disability, manifest through unequal access to services, resources and opportunities, stigmatisation and social exclusion.
According to the study, most international migrants in Botswana originate from India, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, with 80 per cent falling within the 15–49 age group, i.e. the most sexually active and economically productive age group. Botswana’s 170,000 non-citizens in residence constitute 7 per cent of the country’s total population; of these, an estimated 30,000 live with HIV, with approximately 27 per cent receiving ART.
The UN indicated in their report that policies and practices that restrict access to essential healthcare services for migrants and refugees can reduce their access to information on HIV prevention and lead to them avoiding testing services and treatment for HIV for fear of arrest and deportation.
This means that fewer know their HIV status and can cause increased HIV prevalence through the practice of Multiple Concurrent Partnerships (MCP) and reduced access to prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT).
Furthermore, migrants are marginalised because of limited access to free, publicly financed antiretroviral therapy, despite the 2016 Treat All policy and the government’s National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework 2018–2023 (NSF III) recognises non-citizens as a priority population requiring programmatic attention.
“Within the non-citizen population, prisoners and refugees have access to ART, but other migrants have to purchase antiretroviral from private facilities at a high cost. Non-citizen Populations who cannot afford ART treatment on their own include low-wage workers, such as maids, cleaners, hair braiders and other day labourers, and unmarried partners of citizens, including the unmarried mothers of children fathered by citizens.”
In this new report, the United Nations pointed out that non-citizens (including their children) were excluded from government COVID-19 food assistance during the April-May 2020 national lockdown.
Asylum seekers are held in prisons and prison-like conditions, including at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants. Poor conditions include a lack of adequate healthcare. The refugee population tends to face exclusion from tertiary healthcare assistance that requires referral to private health facilities.
THE LGBTI COMMUNITY
The United Nations also exposed how Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex persons in Botswana are treated. The organisation found out that members of the LGBTIQ community continue to face discrimination, which affects their access to healthcare and HIV prevention. Even though the Botswana High Court struck down laws making homosexuality illegal in 2019, little information is available on the size of the community and HIV and TB prevalence rates within it.
In 2017, the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) was estimated at 2,625 in 10 study districts leading to an adjusted national size estimate of 4,169.84. In the 2017 BBSS, condom use at last sex was reported by 77 per cent on average, with less than two-thirds reporting they always used condoms (61 per cent).
About 20 per cent reported engaging in sex work, 42 per cent were in concurrent relationships, and 40 per cent had (primarily casual) female partners in the six months before the survey, thus intersecting with the female population at large.
It was further reported that LBT women experience limited access to health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services. Transgender people are also unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity.
There are documented cases in which identity document barriers had resulted in delays in accessing health care. Access was impeded when health workers called the police after transgender persons presented identity documents that did not reflect their gender identity. In 2014, at least 75 per cent of HIV programmes and services for transgender persons were provided by civil society organisations (CSOs).
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”.
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.
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.