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The Need to Prove Just About Everything

SANDY GRANT
The demand (request?) for proof came at us from three different quarters this week – from the Land Board, the bank and Botswana Life. The Land Board, that is our Land Board, has got all this carefully worked out.

It insists that it be given first one certified document and then, sometime later, another. By failing to tell everyone exactly what documents it will require, it contrives to inflict the maximum misery on the maximum number of people, standing in long queues waiting for help from people who are, often, not even there. The most obvious of all these varied necessities is providing proof that one is still alive.

Or alternatively proving that one is not dead. This may sound simple but each time that we are asked to go through this routine its completion does prompt feelings of relief that someone, merely on the basis of an O Mang, can confirm that one’s coffin can be set aside for another year. But then the O Mang is required not merely to provide proof of existence but of identity. In a way, it is extraordinary that the O Mang has become such a vitally important tag. It is in fact so valuable an item that it is now a routine to doubt its validity. Hence the certified copy of the O Mang which by some strange trick, has become more acceptable than the original. The counterfeiters, it is said, are no longer interested in the original. What they want is the replica, the certified copy, which is today of greater worth than the original. Before long, the key document will be the certified copy of the certified copy. It’s bound to come. But then this immediately prompts questions as to how the certified copy is obtained and what might be involved?  

So far, we in Oodi have been exceptionally lucky because the Tribal Office has been so remarkably forbearing. The trouble is that it was never anticipated that tribal offices would need to perform such a role. But now that they are also required to provide annual proof of residence for the banks, it could be that they will begin to feel the strain and simply declare, one day, that enough is enough and that they have been providing this service out of goodwill, not obligation. Where then will the many thousands go who, up and down the country, live in villages? We are already unable to meet the insistence of the banks that we provide utility bills. The requirement is to provide a document, any document, that confirms our physical address. Utilities bills, invariably suggested as providing proof, are irrelevant because they provide the

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postal not physical address. Pity the poor headman or kgosana of any of Gaborone’s satellite villages, for instance, who is now asked to certify that an immigrant to his village, who he has never seen in his life, does indeed live in this or that ward! This is becoming a pain in the backside. More to the point it is becoming, or already has become, ridiculous.

Those who so airily demand proof of existence, identity and place of residence must quickly focus on this problem and find a solution to a problem that they, and no one else, has created. And all this on top of proof of birth and proof of marriage and the increasing need to provide information to those who already possess it. Why? Because such information changes.

We move our place of residence. We change our names, usually by marriage, and our identity. We also change the sources of our income. Of course, BURS annually requires the details of this income but here comes the bank also requiring the same information. Failure to comply does, of course involve penalties. Your bank is legally empowered to freeze your account, which is something that BURS cannot do. But mind, you as I infuriatingly found out for myself, it is also at liberty to block your ATM at any time it feels like it.

I wonder how the poor San cope with all these demands? Perhaps they don’t need to do so because they have contrived by way of their life style to be free of such bureaucratic demands.  Our way of life is supposed to be better than theirs but in this context, they may have got a better deal than ourselves BURS is different from the banks. The payment of tax has little perceived relationship, as yet, with the money laundering that so concerns the banks. It isn’t bothered about your place of abode, which it believes is your business.

 It simply wants to know what you earned and what you spent? If it is worried about the information provided, it can seek proof. It does seem strange therefore that the banks and BURS with somewhat similar concerns should have such different agendas. But probably I should keep quiet about this because before long BURS may get the idea that it too should fall in step by demanding proof of identity before it will accept payment of your tax dues! There is always hope!



Etcetera II

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