In essence, the amendments seek to increase the number of persons required to register a religious organisation from 10 to 250, while also increasing fines for non-compliance with certain provisions by up to 50 times in some instances.
Offences include operating an illegal society, soliciting collections while operating an illegal society and allowing an illegal society to operate on your premises. In addition, foreigners registering religious organisations in Botswana will be required to prove that at least two thirds of their membership are Batswana and resident in Botswana.
The State says the amendments are primarily to update the 43 year old law in recognition of the larger population of religious organisations as well as the sinister ‘mushrooming’ of churches led by charismatic foreign leaders, which in some cases are suspected to be swindling Batswana.
Clearly the proposed amendments and their motivations are naturally divisive, partly because of the scale of changes they seek to introduce, but mostly because of the sensitivities associated with issues of faith.
The faithful flock of the targeted churches feel government has launched an unfair and unjustified assault on their existence and freedom to associate. With persecution being a traditional theme in many churches, religious leaders feeling targeted have already galvanised their congregations against the proposed amendments.
On the outside, skeptics who have long sounded ‘warnings’ about the mushrooming of churches and charismatic foreign leaders, feel the amendments are not a second too soon, to plug the wholesale spiritual deception and fraud of Batswana.
It is critical that cool heads prevail in the discussions of these amendments, due to the multi-faceted nature of the potential fall-out should irreconcilable differences arise.
Already, certain quarters are drawing allusions to the State vs Church debate and argue that Home Affairs minister, Edwin Batshu has no right dictating to the faithful who their leader should be, how big their church should be, where it should worship or whether or not members should tithe/give.
Already in yesterday’s preliminary debates, one Member of Parliament announced he was “ready to die” in the fight against the amendments.
Is the State being either patently paternalistic or covertly condescending? Or, like in every other jurisdiction around the world, the State’s duty is to protect its citizens from harm and only the guilty will be affected?
Parliament represents all these views, but Batshu has a delicate matter to deal with on his hands.
“Key issues that have emerged are the mushrooming of churches, particularly under foreign leadership, who have appeared to be “economic missionaries”.
- Edwin Batshu