Our Introduction to Law (L101), lecturer would pace about the lecture room lamenting what he called "institutional fetishism", in the legal profession.
He said that in the trade of which were the only aspirants, such fetishism found expression mainly in the legal code of dress and traditions. Judges wore horsehair wigs artificially greyed to fake wisdom even as, on occasion, there was more in the wig than beneath it.
They sat in exalted positions, perched high above everyone, lawyers and the public having to angle our gaze at them in the same way a fervent worshipper looks to heaven when in prayer. We called them “My Lords” and “Your Worship” in ardent flattery. Instead of applying for orders, we “prayed” for orders and petitioned them to grant our prayers. The Judge wore priestly robes in his “judgement seat”, like an imaginary Jesus Christ choosing which prayers to grant and which to refuse, often, tempering justice with mercy as God did with the sinful David. We even called ourselves “ministers in the temple of justice” and swore on the Bible or the Koran to assert the sanctity of the oath.
The court was the only institution in the land with life and death powers over mankind and when its door was banged thrice, the representative of the Holy Trinity would emerge from behind a mystic chamber like the holy of hollies, into which only the minsters and the servants of the church had occasional access, at his pleasure. Forget that he overdrank yesterday or only freshly battered his wife.
We adopted the symbol and form of the Holy Virgin Mary, to assert purity and unblemished justice and perched her high above our buildings. In her hand we put the sword of Solomon. We completed the whole charade by bowing every time we went in and out of court and answering to everything the adjudicator said, even if it was nonsense, by a reverent, “As The Court Pleases”. The crime of contempt of Court is actually medieval crime of blasphemy. The lawyers wore black and white, or some dark colour, against white, depicting the absolute distinction between darkness and light. Whilst the substance of the court was purely legal, justice came draped in a cloak of religiosity. Institutional fetishism.
Twenty years down the line, I wear dark robes every morning; a perfect purveyor of institutional fetishism. So is everyone in my trade. Recently, some social media commentators wondered why lawyers have not yet discarded these ancient traditions. I did not give a straight answer. I said that it was for the same reason policemen saluted one another and had a uniform and that they could go fishing. I am indoctrinated. I cherish my gown; the legal register; the dark brown walls, the sound of the door banging thrice,
Enough with all that. What am I all about? By the way, I have realised that we are after all, not alone in the industry of blind worship. A Botswana President, is something of a fetish. If you tell him off you go to jail. If you undermine his authority you go to jail. It is all blasphemy. Recently, after a radio interview, someone charged me with addressing the President as “Masisi”.
They said “ga se maitseo”. I should, according to them, say “His Excellency Dr. Masisi”. I told them where to jump off. It is our fault as Batswana that we fetishise political leaders to the extent of worship. Here, Presidents are something between Jesus Christ and Bruce Springsteen. Their followers follow in blind adulation. The results are there for all of us to see. Check the manisfestos of the respective parties to the exception of, perhaps one. The same are, in fact, photo albums of the Presidents.
Presidents’ pictures even hang on courtroom walls, something I strongly object to because it all insults my faith. There should be no one overlooking his Worship or his Lordship. It offends the justice depicted by the treasured symbol of our virgin Mary.
If you want to note the difference, watch BTV. Oh, deary me, it is better now. It used to be worse. These characters had trouble knowing whether the “Dr”, awarded to Ian Khama, must come before or after his military and royal credentials. Meanwhile, on BBC Theresa May, is Theresa May; and on CNN, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. No one squeals. Here, they even had trouble with where they should place the jet fighter doctorate and its replacement in the titular incantation.
When University of Botswana (UB) correctly realised the first doctorate was a poisoned chalice; an attempt at bribery, the professors there apologised for the blasphemy, burnt incense at the stadium, and gave him a local replacement. Botswana parties hardly ever censor their Presidents for defects whilst they are in power.
They, in fact laud their defects. Presidents are fetishised. The disease is not peculiar to the bygone era. It is still here with us. “Go Sisibetse; go Masisi; We are Sissified…”. The BDP followers are back to their old ways. The same ways that brought them to where they are today. Roman Emperor Julian would say, that those who would not censor his defects were unworthy to applaud his virtues. I rest, Your Worships and Lordships?