We may all be able to agree that as Batswana, we generally all endeavor to do everything we do with botho. It seems a vital requirement for all our interactions.
By definition, botho is said to be the social contract of mutual respect, responsibility, and accountability that members in society have towards each other and defines the process for earning respect by first giving it and to gain empowerment by empowering others.
The Botswana primary school curriculum teaches that botho is the bedrock of Botswana’s being. It is said to be a deep recognition of another’s humanity and the interconnectedness of all our lives. Botho positions us as part of a collective or a community and yet honours our individuality and necessitates the appreciation thereof.
It is a value system and perhaps even a currency, which insists on relatability, but not in such a manner that dictates that we all be the same. It would seem it is the starting point of human interaction – that the human in me, recognises, acknowledges, accepts and respects the human in you.
A few months ago, informal groups of feminists and other women’s rights advocates occupied the social media pages of political leaders, insisting on accountability, by said leaders, in developing and implementing mechanisms aimed at preventing and ending gender based violence. Amongst the leaders who’s pages were trolled, was President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has the role of appointing Ministers to office. In the days leading up to Christmas 2018, the President appointed Ngaka Ngaka to the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender, the ministry tasked with the oversight of all matters gender related, including gender based violence. It has been alleged that Ngaka, in 2014, publicly assaulted his wife in a case that was apparently poorly dealt with by the Botswana Police Service. Feminists and some non-feminist identifying persons are insisting on the removal of the Minister, as his placement therein stands to disaffect the efforts made within the said ministry. Towards the end of 2018, a petition was prepared and signed by many, advocating for his removal. As is norm, there are those who say those who bring up Ngaka’s abuse are lacking in botho, and are insulting an elder. The position of the petitioners, however, insists that a perpetrator can never effectively lead the survivors of crimes similar to the one that he has been accused of.
An excuse usually used by adults to not engage with the youth, is often the invention that young people nowadays lack the social etiquette to speak to their elders with botho. A mistake is made, one may notice, between the social contract of mutual respect and the recognition and acknowledgment of every person’s humanity, on the one hand, and deference which insists on submission, and honoring a person solely on the basis of their age or place in authority, because it is assumed that these make one sager, even where they are completely devoid of the necessary experience.
In fact, one could argue that many young people today display and illustrate more botho. The difference is that they do so in the context of the tech age, where what we do can be seen by all. We are aware that respect is earned, deserved and reciprocated.
It is not a given. It is also certainly not based on merely passively listening to our elders. Listening to elders is offering politeness and heeding their demands. This is done even when sometimes they are not deserved. The mutual respect proposed by botho on the other hand, is completely neutral and is on the basis of experiences, accountability, and responsibility. It is not one person asking for permission to exist and the other allowing it. Instead, it is the recognition by both persons of each other’s humanity.
What does this have to do with the Minister’s appointment? Feminists are concerned, and this time publicly so, with the placement of an alleged abuser. The Minister has come forward to give a public apology, sharing that he and his wife have since resolved all matters between themselves. There is however a stain that remains. A bitter taste in the mouths of people who believe the Ministry that oversees gender affairs should be unsullied, if you will with allegations similar to the ones made against the Minister. It has the unfortunate potential to completely diminish and destabilise the gender aspect in the ministry, which many have worked tirelessly to build up. A perpetrator, even when he apologises, can never undo the impact and effect of the wrong he has committed.
The constituents intended to be served by the Ministry should be of paramount consideration. We are constantly reminded that charity, as many other virtues, begin at home. If an individual is unable to control his violent urges against someone he has professed to love, honor and respect, how can we trust, he will consider and treat those he has to oversee as a matter of his position and not affection? Botho is the precept we aspire to. Botho is about considering all sides, and placing importance on all considerations, even where we do not agree.
An alleged perpetrator, even after he has reformed, should not be allowed near those who were, could be, or could have been his victims. It would be a grave injustice to not consider the humanity of survivors of violence. We are wondering how gendered violence will effectively be targeted as a priority area for the Ministry, in the months to follow and we genuinely ask, ka botho.