Late September 2016, it was reported that a certain Pastor Steven Anderson, an American citizen, was deported, following incendiary remarks made on local radio.
Batswana were divided on the issue and we wrote that ordinarily, Mmegi – as a newspaper whose establishment and growth have leveraged off the fight for full freedom of expression – would have assumed the vanguard in defending Anderson’s right to be heard. We added that however, his comments prior to and after arrival in Botswana make the freedom of speech argument untenable in his case. His comments also reignite an underlying debate about the lack of clear “hate speech” legislation in Botswana.
The Constitution is clear on freedom of expression. No person may be hindered in the enjoyment of their freedom of expression, which is the freedom to hold opinions and to receive ideas and to communicate without interference. There are however no specific provisions on hate speech and for this, we rely on sections of the Penal Code such as those on incitement to violence and unlawful society.
That reliance is inherently imprudent, not only because the Penal Code is highly imprecise in its application of those provisions, but also because the punishment therein fails to adequately serve as a specific deterrent to hate speech and its impact on social order. In addition, using that section of the Penal Code to punish hate speech, opens the door to broader use of that section perhaps
Since the advent of social media, Batswana are increasingly becoming a nation without the principle of respect, Botho. Social media has become a vulgar platform where leadership of political parties across the divide is vulgarised because they simply differ with others.
The social media brigade do not care that we are a nation living by the adage ‘tlhong botho’ and respect authority even where we differ. In order to get more likes on some social media platforms, just insult one of the leaders. These ill-mannered individuals are heroes to their handlers and political parties.
One wonders what happened to the Setswana adage mmualebe a bue laga gore mmualentle a bue la gagwe? We might differ in ideology and religion, but it does not give anyone the right to insult others.
We are the first defenders of expression, but we find it hard to defend freedom of expression exercised without Botho like we failed to align ourselves with the extremist, Pastor Anderson. Although our leadership cannot hide behind Botho when we demand answers from them, we should cautiously treat everybody with Botho.
“Botho says you are human because you participate in relationships. It says a person is a person through others.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu