Butale ready to die fighting Societies Bill

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Tati West legislator, Biggie Butale yesterday crossed swords with his Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) colleagues when he declared he would die opposing the Societies Amendment Bill.

Butale, a pastor of a Pentecostal church and former president of Evangelical Fellowship Botswana was spitting fire and brimstone in the National Assembly saying the amendments were discriminatory as it sought to treat churches differently to other societies.

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.

“This move is very discriminatory against the Church. Why are other societies required to have 20 people and religious organisations expected to bring 250?” the pastor of a Pentecostal church challenged.

He argued that in an effort to curb fraudulent prophets and churches, the solution did not lie in denying churches registration.

He said an oversight body was needed to tighten regulations.  “This is not the correct way to go about it,” a visibly charged Butale protested in a no-holds-barred speech before fellow legislators.

This time, unlike last time when he backed down on naming some monument after Gomolemo Motswaledi, the fallen opposition politics hero, Butale ploughed on.

Bristling with emotion and spiritually charged, Butale, who at some point sounded like a true clergy at the pulpit remonstrating with sinners, bellowed: “I haven’t spoken to God, but this move has the potential of even angering God”.

Butale continued that painting the Church with the same brush was unfair.  The Church did not need to be crucified when trying to deal with fraudsters as that would also victimise genuine religious organisations, the just and the righteous.

While admitting that the institution to some degree had been its own enemy, he said promulgating laws such as the proposed act simply set a bad precedence.

“You pass this law, and another similar law will pass, and another law, and yet another law,” he said. Bonnington North MP and Leader of Opposition (LoO), Duma Boko said the fact that the amendments aimed at addressing the ‘mushrooming of churches’, warranted worry based on the wording.

He said that civic organisations, churches involved were critical for civic engagement, as they constituted a micro-network of social connectedness. Duma maintained that the Church functions as a sight of that social connectedness.  “People remain socially connected through the church, and having 250 people makes it difficult,” he said.

He said that the proposed number of people needed to register a church had the potential of depriving congregants of an intimate and meaningful social contact, as the number is too large. He called the proposition ungodly, unnecessary as well as against the social capital and civic engagement.

The MP for Palapye, Moiseraela Goya on the other hand welcomed the amendments, citing that citizens were equally worried by the proliferation of churches.

He added that the feeling on the ground is that 250 was too small, as he proposed the number to be escalated to 500.     

Presenting the Bill for the second reading, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu said the mushrooming of churches necessitated the amendment.

He said it was particularly churches under foreign leaders who appeared to be “economic missionaries”, attracted by the country’s economic status.

“Splinter churches that have emerged influenced by struggles for leadership positions and control of church assets and finances influenced the amendment of the Act,” Batshu said.  The lack of legal provision for mediation and reconciliation of church disputes is yet among other reasons that called for the proposed requirements for societies. Batshu revealed that to date, 18 unresolved church disputes dating as far back as 1986 existed.

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