Years ago, an ill-advised Cabinet, emerged from the parliamentary drinking hole, and decided that it was in the public interest to stem the proliferation of Churches.
So called false pastors were, according to them, ripping off the public and it was government’s duty to ensure that the gullible were protected.
Before then, the Registrar had been instructed not to register churches in an unofficial moratorium based on the same concerns. I must know, because frustrated individuals who had sought to register same consulted with me on their legal options. The politicians had taken interest in ecclesiastical matters and had appointed themselves arbiters of doctrinal rectitude.
The absurdities, or more accurately obscenities, that resulted from the infamous legislative interventions rocked some sections of parliament. It was demanded, amongst others, that before one could register a church, they needed to supply the signatures of over 200 people who would have taken a resolution to do so.
In essence, one needed to come up with a ready made church or they would not be allowed their freedoms of conscience and association. The likes of MP Biggie Butale revolted over what was an unwarranted interference with conscientious freedoms. To pacify them, a deal was struck in terms of which a slightly reduced number would be required.
The other day, someone publicly read out the human anatomy over what he considered to be a waste of productive time. The gentleman had apparently visited a government facility to obtain help and had found wellness activities ongoing. He must have heard people praying.
I do not know how they do it at the DRTS in Francistown where he was, but from my experience at the Attorney General’s Chambers, the same took no more than 30 minutes, happened once in a week, and was not about prayer.
Individuals from various walks of life and disciplines were invited to motivate the workforce in the government’s effort towards employee wellbeing which was perceivably key to productivity. Customarily, in a predominantly Christian country, such started with a prayer and ended with one.
This was enough to cause the cup of discontent to overflow. Prayer was blamed for lack of productivity. Some atheists only stopped short of blaming it for space debris and global warming.
It is fair to declare that I am a Christian. I cannot therefore rule out that my faith has had an influence in the thoughts I am sharing. I remain acutely aware of such as I deal with dogmatic secularism which to me is nothing but a poor excuse for intolerance.
The chant, “Botswana is a secular state” is not new to my ears. In fact my ears hurt at the sound of it, especially when it is chanted to reinforce or institutionalise an anti-faith prejudice. Let me
My point of diversion with many, is when the so-called secularism is propagated as an excuse for religious exclusion to fit a preferred prejudicial narrative. I have in mind here, amongst others, calls to ban prayer from the workplace. I disagree.
Botswana has a predominantly Christian population. This is not to say that I do not recognise other faiths. Nor is it to say that Christianity should be held to be legally superior to other faiths by simple reason of the same being more popular. Before the law, all faiths are equal and the beliefs of people are protected and recognised as essential in the overall government objective of helping the citizenry in their pursuit of happiness.
Let us take, again, the example of those who revolt at why there are Christian Public Holidays. The answer, by me, is simple. There are Christian public holidays because Botswana is a predominantly Christian country. A significant fraction of its population needs them as part of their spiritual experience and existence.
Parliament, in its wisdom, representing the people’s will, considered same necessary. None Christians are not forced to observe the same. In fact, Muslim and atheist-owned businesses are generally open on such holidays. My point is that parity is not achieved by subtraction from the liberties enjoyed by others.
It is achieved by empowerment of minorities in order that they can likewise enjoy their liberties to the fullest. Just because atheists, for example, believe in nothing and have no holidays to talk of, is no valid reason to find the conferment of holidays on others objectionable.
But alas, that is not the case. An atheist friend even argued that there should be no religious activity in “tax payer paid time”, conveniently forgetting that the religious and faithful make the bulk of the tax paying population.
Secularism is not a system where the government shuns faiths. I understand it to be one where government does not uphold any faith as its blueprints for governance and where all faiths including non-believers are given equal status before the law. It is where the dispositions of all are consulted in policy making as a function of democratic governance.
That is why, amongst others, we have a Ntlo ya Dikgosi as an advisory body even as we are a Republic and not a federation of kingdoms. I remind my atheist friends that we are a democracy and people’s traditions and beliefs matter. Their non-belief will likewise, never be the blueprint for governance.