Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans-gender and intersex persons (LGBTI) want President Mokgweetsi Masisi to allow same sex relationships which to date, are deemed unlawful in Botswana.
Masisi had recently called for the respect and protection of LGBTI persons’ rights at the launch of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence on Women and Children last week. His utterances on the matter, enlisted words of praise and admiration from the LGBTI community would then pen him a letter of gratitude while also laying bare some of their nagging concerns.
“There are also many people of same-sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated. Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected,” Masisi stated at last week’s launch.
In their letter directed at the president, members of Lesbians Gays Bisexual of Botswana (LEGABIBO) thanked him for these words, saying they were thankful to his affirmation and mentioning of their ordeals and suffering. The president’s public acknowledgement of violations directed at members of this marginalised community, and his recognition of the discrimination and the resultant fear generated by all these, were particularly a source of inspiration to the concerned group.
These LEGABIBO members added that they are grateful to hear a sitting President speak openly and publicly on the need to protect those in same-sex relationships who have been violated.
“We are pleased that you named aloud the violence that members of our community suffer in their daily lives. We are writing this letter to encourage you to continue your efforts in ensuring that the human rights of all persons are upheld regardless of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
This is an example of good governance and respecting the rule of law,” says their letter. They further urged Masisi to raise expectations within Parliament for zero-tolerance of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, verbal or otherwise, urging his office further to make efforts to decriminalise consensual same-sex relationships, stating that Section 164 of the Penal code, which criminalises such relationships, fuels the violence, discrimination, suffering and fear.
“We are particularly interested in what you will do about this section of the law. Because this unjust law is the basis of violence directed at members of our community, your planned actions regarding this matter are of our primary and highest interest,” stated LEGABIBO. They also impressed upon the president to address the gender markers on their birth certificates, Omang and passports, adding that these markers were problematic and caused fellow citizens who identify as transgender and gender non-conforming to experience discrimination in all walks of life.
On related matters, they pleaded with the president to protect members of the LGBTI community from public violence and humiliation, citing a recent example where a transgender woman was attacked in Gaborone.
Religious leaders were neither spared as the concerned group also called on the president to protect members of their community against these religious leaders who fuel hatred towards them. “While we respect sincerely-held faiths in Botswana, we cannot condone those who preach inflammatory, discriminatory messages towards those who only seek to love members of the same sex,” says the letter, adding that the president should make a statement to all civil servants – teachers, healthcare workers, police and all service providers – that LGBTI people are citizens of this country, and like all other citizens, cannot be denied services available to the general public.
Members of the LGBTI community in Botswana say they are looking forward to Masisi’s leadership and a new approach to issues concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. “In conclusion, Your Excellency, we ask you to make it clear to all politicians that members of the LGBTI community are not amused hearing that politicians who support our rights will lose elections; hearing that we are to blame for lack of rain; and hearing religious and cultural doctrines that seek to disempower us. However, like you, we are interested in open dialogue to promote the human rights of LGBTI,” states the letter.
Batswana’s sorry lives
For scores of Batswana, life is a mundane routine of trying to make ends meet. An economist once indicated that many Batswana are a meal away from poverty.
In fact the 2016/17 report of Botswana Statistics indicates that most Batswana in urban areas live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, unemployment among youth stands at 23%. The report also indicates that a great number of Batswana earn on average of P4000 while a lot more still live in one-room dwellings. The gap between the poor and the rich is ever widening and incomes are not enough to cover the high cost of living while prospects are few and wide apart.
Thabiso Makatse came to Gaborone in search of greener pastures but has been disappointed. “After two years of unsuccessfully applying for jobs, I decided to move to Gabs from my home village. I did odd jobs – from store cashier to petrol attendant. I also dabbled in entrepreneurship, selling car parts and clothes.”
Faced with taking care of his younger siblings, parents and child, he had to try everything to make ends meet and he is still riding that boat. Makatse says that the stress of being anxious about an income and being unemployed with nothing stable in the horizon had a negative effect on him. “In the world we live in, you only make sense when you have money. Even in relationships it is difficult because women don’t like broke men who cannot take them out or give them money. It can be stressful when a woman expects money for nails, hair or clothes while you are worried about where your next meal will come from.”
Depression brought on by socio-economic stress is widespread in the country. A source at the Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse says that in the past decade, the hospital has registered a higher number of patients, most of who come with stresses related to money, work and other issues affecting their socio-economic status. “Issues such as retrenchment, debt and bad financial decisions in business can land one on their back. We see more people struggling to keep in the socio-economic landscape, and it affects their psychological well-being and brings on mental illness brought on by compounded stress.”
Psychologist Thelma Tlhaselo-Majela concedes that unemployment or inability to generate an income can have a negative effect on individuals. “The most significant is the realisation that one may have all it takes to find a job including wishes and desires to do so nonetheless are unable to work because of circumstances beyond their control. In some instances, the situation may push one to opt for jobs that are far below one’s qualifications thus compromising potential and inner capacity simply because they want to be engaged.
When one realises that they cannot get meaningfully engaged, this may provoke residual effects because employment has some invaluable benefits in balancing the equilibrium for quality life.” She further says that it is crucial to recognise that gainful and fulfilling employment contributes to shaping the foundational state of the socio-psychological and economic well-being at individual, familial and national level.
“It is in our work, job or occupation that we willingly spend long hours of our time and this grounds structural patterns for daily routine hence people deriving corresponding fulfilment for purpose and existence. The disruption of this patterned routine has potential to throw one in a state of chaos and disorientation especially if one is not well-prepared to adjust and handle the situation well.”
Majela explains that when these stressors set on, no matter the existing savings, the financial resources are bound to witness a gradual decline and depletion. The struggle begins in meeting basic needs while lifestyle orientation demands corresponding alterations. The key indicator in the family lifestyle change often impacts on children because some may not fully comprehend what is going on. Lifestyle reorientation may demand moving from large to smaller houses, private to public schools, smaller cost effective cars, humble meals and clothing and these new dynamics may shake the familial structure into diverse difficulties and conflicts.”
Majela explains that our occupations and work spaces constitute the inseparable nature of our psychological identities due to the intra-inter-personal development that happens especially if one loves and enjoys what they do.
“The psychological identity connects with the socialisation processes where we received messages, positive or negative, early in life from people around us. In our daily social activities, the purpose and meaning of life is then shaped by and through the communication we internalise through our social space.” She further points out that being ‘judged’ can worsen the situation in people who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Anyone who receives verbal and non-verbal communication that undermines their inner worth contributes to the onset of anxiety and depression. The psychological state of rejection, discouragement, coupled with deterioration in hope, pride and self-esteem impacts on mental well-being.” Majela points out that a deep sense of depression expressed through hopelessness and helplessness can throw one into psychological damage expressed through self-harming behavioural patterns such as self-cutting, hair pulling, addiction to alcohol and drugs, sexual and eating disorders to mention just a few. “The loss of employment on the other hand provokes psychological pain leading to grief and bereavement, which can be just as real and actual as loss of death of a loved one.”
She adds that it is not uncommon for people to begin to experience mental health issues because often their thought patterns may become irrational and distorted and may dig into suicidal ideation.
Majela suggests several ways that people with depression related to their socio-economic situation can be assisted that include acceptance of situation. “When people are thrown into chaotic states of life, they unconsciously engage psychological defence mechanisms which often work on short term basis and can be detrimental when applied on long term basis.
These defence mechanisms include denial, repression, reaction formation and intellectualization. The quick psychological acceptance helps to propel one to shift into being open to seeking, receiving and committing to the necessary and available intervention support.” She also recommends seeking counselling and psycho-social support. Majela also suggests transformational thinking with cognitive reordering.
“Any new life orientation bringing change in our lives tends to provoke discomfort and often people are tempted to resist the change. It is necessary for people to challenge their thinking patterns by redirecting, refocusing and re-establishing new ways of processing information. Transformational thinking influences us in relooking at situations sometimes with the ability to let go and forgive which requires a new mindset in looking at situations of life,” she said. She also recommends regular physical exercise, journaling, and spiritual connection.
Majela notes that a stress free life may not be a reality hence it is necessary to have a proactive, systemic and holistic approach to managing socio-economic landscape and its associated challenges to reduce the bumpy impact of life stressors.
BDP elections in doubt
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is a party in disarray at the moment, and uncertainty reigns over what the future really holds at Tsholetsa as the 2019 general election looms large.
Tensions abound within the party, with glaring factionalism taking centre stage and prompting a call by some, for the party’s elective congress to proceed without election of a new Central Committee. The BDP’s Secretary General Mpho Balopi has since revealed that party members will use the impending National Council to deliberate whether to hold an elective congress or not.
As per its constitution, the party holds an elective congress every two years. Already, some democrats have shown interest to challenge the current Central Committee members for office.
Even though the party has not given the green light for campaigns, democrats vying for office have started speaking to fellow party members to lobby for votes. The divided party’s break or make elective congress is expected in the month of July at a venue and date yet to be decided.
There have been calls by some democrats for the party not to hold an elective congress, even at their other structures. This year the party is expected to have a Youth Wing elective congress, Women Wing elective congress and a National Elective Congress. This publication has established that there is a lobby for a compromise, but chances of the compromise deal succeeding are very slim, inside sources say.
This is because despite Balopi’s assertions that the party emerged united from the Palapye retreat, there is a strained relationship between the current leadership and some members of the party including ministers, Members of Parliament and Councillors.
Those who believe the current central committee has failed the party are pushing for the elective congress while those sympathetic to the leadership want a compromise. Their contention is that since it is election year, they have to focus on general elections to win with large numbers instead of being distracted by inner party elections.
However the opposing side has stood by the party constitution and wants it to be followed to the letter and respected above all else. In the past, compromise deals were made and elections were avoided at the request of then President Ian Khama.
Balopi told members of the media in Palapye after the party’s retreat that the National Council which traditionally is held in March, would deliberate on the question of the elective congress. “We have tradition as BDP that during election year we avoid elections internally and focus on general elections.
The issue of the youth wing, women wing and national congress will be discussed during our national council,” he said. Balopi stated that the democrats who attended the in-house meeting were on the same page that the matter should be taken seriously because of the impact it could have on the performance of the party in the general elections.
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