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”.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.