The Botswana National Front wishes to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the onslaught on basic fundamental freedoms by state security apparatus in Botswana. We have witnessed an insatiable appetite on the side of state organs to disperse peaceful gatherings by meting violence on peaceful protesters.
It must be a concern to all of us when state security apparatus resorts to violence against its people, and thereby trampling upon basic freedoms to associate and to assemble. The importance of freedom of assembly cannot be underscored in any democratic society such as ours. Lately we have witnessed a narrowing of the civic space in Botswana. Peaceful protests which seek to communicate a legitimate societal scourge of unemployment cannot be dispersed with sjamboks and violence in the manner that we have witnessed recently. As the BNF, we hold dear the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. An onslaught on peaceful demonstrators by state security apparatus is an onslaught on Botswana Constitutional democracy, its ideals of humanity, Botho and patriotism.
There is need to contextualize the unemployment protests which are spearheaded by unemployed, yet qualified youths of Botswana. As the BNF, we characterize the protests as a welcome move by youths who seek to enforce and remind the BDP-led government of its obligations imposed by the Social Contract. It is apparent that the BDP government has, for many years, ignored its obligations as far as the social contract is concerned. Instead of discharging its obligations, by creating equitable and dignified employment opportunities, the BDP led government has institutionalized corruption, nepotism and thereby sidelining our population from the mainstream economic activity.
It is worrisome and disturbing that journalists and reporters have not escaped the wrath and brutality of state security apparatus. We learn that Security apparatus confiscated equipment and other work-related material belonging to journalists who were covering the Unemployment protests. Once the state forcibly censors the work of journalists, it is an indication that our democracy is being derailed. There is no law which empowers the police to confiscate material used by journalists in their line of duty. Such actions by the Police demonstrate impunity and arrogance of the highest order.
As the BNF, we view the Public Order Act as incompatible with participatory democracy and active citizenry. The Public order Act seems to suggest that for citizens to exercise their right to assemble, they require ‘permission/permit’ from an administrative officer. It seems to suggest that the leaders hold the rights of the public in trust and only deposit it with them when it wishes to. To us Human rights are God given and cannot be taken away, not even by the leaders.
Although the BNF is alive to the fact that rights and freedoms are not absolute, it is however our firm view that the Public Order Act seems to limit the enjoyment and exercise of freedoms unreasonably and such is unjustifiable in an open and democratic society such as ours. In would appear that, in terms of the Act, without an express ‘permission/permit’ from the police officers, citizens cannot peacefully assemble and protest. It is our believe that such as approach goes beyond limiting the freedom of assembly and potentially takes away the very rights which the constitution and various international human rights instruments sought to safeguard.
The Unemployment protesters posed no threat, real or imagined, to national security, peace, morality, rights of others and as such, their peaceful assembly ought to have been protected by state security agencies even without a permit. It is only a barbaric government which responds to a peaceful protest with violence. As the BNF, we make a clarion call to other civil society organisations to consider testing the constitutionality of the Public Order Act. Our fear is that it would not pass the constitutional muster, atleast in the manner which it is arbitrarily applied to deny citizens their freedom to assemble and protest. Not long ago, members of the #Ishallnotforget movement were capriciously denied a permit to march after the Sebinagate scandal. We are of the view that the Public Order Act is an instrument of oppression used to narrow the civic space for citizens to express their grievances openly.
As the BNF, we applaud the fearless youths who participated in the peaceful protest at Parliament precincts. History will remember your heroic deeds someday. We call upon government to consider dialogue and constructive engagement with the leaders of the Unemployment protest movement. Violence has no place in our society. It is alien to our culture. The state must never unleash terror and violence on its own people. It is a classical breach of the social contract and such a fundamental breach necessitates the citizens to consider cancelling the social contract with the BDP come 2019, or earlier if need be.
BNF Secretary General