What a time to be alive! Parliament and the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
In an embarrassing turn of events, upon his return to Parliament and on September 16, 2020, Polson Majaga read a statement opposing the Botswana Child Rights Network petition.
There are many embarrassing parts of the statement. The one I will focus on is the cheap cop-out our leaders love to use. My focus on it, is with a view to offer clarity on the legal principle, so as not to mislead people in the ways our Parliament does; and to illustrate the ways in which our Parliament misuses this particular legal principle where defilers they know, are concerned, so that they, as Parliament, avoid being held accountable for breaking bread with rapists, defilers, batterers and abusers. In his statement, Majaga alleges that the petition encouraging him to step aside from his duties as Member of Parliament, until such a time that his matter is concluded, is “malicious and defamatory … casting aspersions on his dignity”. He goes further to say the case against him is sub judice and he will not speak on it.
What is correct, is indeed that a matter before a judicial body shall not be the subject of a public debate of any sort. To say that there is a matter before a judicial body, is not prohibited, as that is public knowledge. That is the first challenge one would note in Majaga’s statement: that in being misguided, it in fact lacks context. Having listened to the reading of the Network’s petition read by Dr. Gobotswang, it is clear that the Network referred to there being a case before a Magistrate’s Court, against Majaga, for defilement. The Network went further to say because of such a case being before a court of competent jurisdiction and one which is trusted to adequately carry out its mandate, the Network would not discuss the details of the case. Instead, the Network encouraged the MP to take a step back, to put his house in order, and conclude the case against him.
The practice of having someone against whom there is an ongoing case, suspended from work, while investigations and the case are ongoing, is a general practice, in various areas of employment. Its implementation, to my understanding, has nothing to do with the innocence or guilt of the alleged perpetrator, or employee who has been suspended. The practice is referred to as “cautionary suspension”, and is accompanied by benefits. The practice bears in mind that indeed, as in the criminal justice system, a person is innocent until the contrary is proven against them. The Network, in my view, were therefore well within their rights and the law, in submitting that a leader, against whom a case of a crime as serious as defilement, has been levelled, should therefore allow the wheels of justice to turn undisturbed
The role of the legislature in this sense, is to ensure the prevention of gender-based violence in the society. To this end, anyone accused of a crime of gender-based violence may not effectively engage in the debates which are of paramount necessity, in our society. Such a person should, for the duration of the case against them, take a back seat. Once the matter against them has been concluded, the determination of whether they can continue with their role or not, can then be engaged with. It has nothing to do with an imputed guilt, or trying to take on the role of the judiciary.
What is wrong, however, is allowing a member of Parliament to insult and ridicule civil society unchecked! So let’s check him! Majaga in his statement, defamatorily said the Network is trying to impress funders with their petition. A defilement case is a matter of national concern. It has nothing to do with happy funders. It has everything to do with a need to protect underage youths who are taken advantage of. It also has everything to do with showing the young people that despite the failures of many other adults, there are those who are there to stand for their protection. Majaga also forgets that politicians don’t make themselves, and that he too has “funders” who ensured his ascendance to leadership.
If his funders are impressed by his attempts to gaslight and re-establishing a hierarchy which places civil society in a position of subservience to partisan politics, then he has greater problems than he realises.
For clarity, civil society is the space outside of the family, the market, or the State. As main roles, civil society is a watchdog and does advocacy work. In its role as watchdog, it monitors compliance with human rights treaties and national laws.
This work is done not to report to some external imagined funder; but rather to ensure that what is practised, is what is right. For a long time, the Botswana civil society has stood by and observed as our national leaders failed our people, with speeches that serve only as lip service. It is encouraging to see them stepping into their role, beyond service provision, and calling out problematic leaders. This re-politicisation of the civil-society, and its new found fearlessness, has long been awaited! Majaga is right about one thing – he should be fearful of them. I don’t see these ones backing down! What a time to be alive!