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Tholwana Borethe – Can anything good emerge from this unlikely tangle?

You may have a better grasp of the whole thing but for me it’s mind boggling.

When I first learnt that the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) had lodged a complaint with the police about four newspaper editors, it seemed that it had embarked on a gamble which had the very real potential to backfire.  The BCP’s action is without precedent. But then there have been other developments which even a few years ago would have seemed unlikely ever to occur. There has been, for instance, the President against the National Assembly and the Chief Justice against the Judges.

If any action was to be taken against the independent newspapers it would have been assumed that this would have been initiated either by the government or by the police. How many of us could have imagined that this action was instead taken by one of the opposition parties! It is generally believed that the commercial newspapers are anti-government.  

Personally, I dislike this generalisation but comparing their content with that of the Daily News does indeed point to profound differences of interest and approach. But now we have a situation which has turned everything upside down. To date, it seems to be widely accepted that it is the government which is antagonistic to the independent press. Now we have a political party utilising the tools of government – such as the Penal Code – to have the four editors investigated. 

In doing so, it has, of course, called on one arm of government, the police, to investigate another, the DIS which, in my book, is an impossibility because the DIS is not in any way answerable to the police. Is there even the remotest possibility that the police can bring this issue to a conclusion without the involvement of the DIS? But then again, the BCP’s complaint to the police is that the four editors have erred by knowingly publishing false information thus causing alarm to the general public thereby falling foul of the penal code.

The obvious precedent would seem to be the very unhappy action taken by the police against the then editor of the Okavango Observer, Caitlin Davies, following her news report about a gang of youths which was causing fear in the Maun community. Legally, I would suppose that it must be extraordinarily difficult to gauge the nature of fear and the extent to which it has affected a community.

In this instance, the complaint is

that fear, loss of reputation, embarrassment, disquiet, upset has been caused to a particular section of the community, the BCP, whilst the rest of society is seemingly unaffected, perhaps even disinterested. It would be a very different matter if the police had taken this action on their own volition; but they didn’t. Why didn’t they?

They did so at the behest of a relatively small section of the community which apparently made no attempt to suggest that the community as a whole had been damaged by this one instance of supposedly false reporting. The police have first to establish, I suppose, if the report in question was indeed false, how it was planted and by whom and whether all the four editors or some of them knowingly or unknowingly published something that was not true.

Curiously, the denial by the DIS that it was involved, automatically implied that it did indeed know that the report was false.  So, who did do it and why? The issue took yet another twist when the editors sought to know the views of all the political parties about those laws which they deemed to be regressive.  

It can be expected, I suppose, that the BDP will ignore the question whilst the other parties may or may not decide to respond given their past record on this issue and their uncertainty, perhaps, in knowing what was to be gained or lost if they were to do so. In addition, they might well be reluctant to take the requested stand knowing that this would implicitly mean support for the BCP which it might not view as being in its best interests. 

How the UDC will react to this turmoil will be of much interest. The BCP had taken this action as a party and not as a member of the UDC but the problems facing one should presumably be problems facing all. Certainly, the BCP must be hoping, even assuming, that the UDC will back it.

If it doesn’t the Umbrella is seriously fractured. But can it do so without knowing precisely what its involvement might mean? But yet another element of this strange affair was pithily voiced by Thomas Nkhoma in the Guardian who emphasized how our reluctance to communicate and inform is opening the door to yet more issues of this kind.

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