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Big Brother State

Written by JFG - Botswana Gazette
May 19, 2009

Get ready for jail. Who is next? Rev Prince Dibeela, of the UCCSA, has warned that Botswana is fast becoming a “Big Brother State” and said that this is a worrying development.  “We are increasingly creating a society that is over-regulated. Every other week there is a new law or a directive that is meant to control us and the way we live our lives."Speaking at the commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day in Gaborone at the weekend, Dibeela said besides the two most controversial laws that were enacted recently, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services and the Media Practitioners Act, a plethora of directives to do with the entertainment industry, traffic regulations and public conduct had been issued. He said the challenge was that the way these regulations were developed was a departure from "our usual culture of consultation and consensus building." The Reverend told his audience that as a person who travels widely, "people are asking us what is going on in Botswana and what has changed?" Some of us have been saying for a while now that there is a systematic process of muzzling voices in our country that do not sing the tune prescribed by those with legislative power. There is a general intolerance on the part of the ruling party with regard to people who speak out of turn from their policies and political direction," he said. He observed that civil society groups in this country were very weak because they had suffered harassment over the years. "Many raised concerns over the relocation of the Basarwa and pleaded for more consultation, but, of course, the government turned a deaf ear and the result is the disaster that has cost the country millions of Pula in trying to explain the mess to the world." Dibeela said when churches and other civil society groups challenged the government policy of demolishing people's homes at Nko ya Phiri and Tsolamosese, the government took exception. "They saw it as interfering and even launched personal attacks on individuals that spoke on the matter.  "What concerns me the most is the intransigence and self-importance of the majority party in Parliament; the way we exercise democracy should be around building consensus. We should talk about issues and if there is disagreement we should be able to say, 'Ok, let's wait a bit and research and compare notes with other countries." Rev. Dibeela said the backbench of the ruling party used to add value to parliamentary debates by speaking their minds on critical issues affecting this country, but the current leadership had continually threatened and silenced them. "How can we continue to say that we are a democracy when laws are passed without taking into consideration the input of the opposition? How can we still call ourselves a democracy when decisions are taken by the executive and a party caucus and parliament merely rubber stamps such decisions? Aren't there mature ways of decision-making than just bulldozing our way through, using the majoritarian principle?" This simply undermines democratic discourse and the principles that are at the core of who we are as a society, he said. "I think we have been too passive for too long as citizens of this country. Now is the time to educate our society about what is really happening. Do not agonize yourselves. We have to mobilize and assist our people to engage through activism that will raise consciousness about the infringements into our liberties and the constitution of the country. If we don't do that, the future of our country and our children is in peril," he said. "Perhaps a few of you should be ready to be fined or to go to prison in order to dismantle the hegemonic power of the ruling elite. There has to be a coalition of civil society, churches, academics and the media in rejecting these draconian laws. We will not be silenced, or sacrifice our liberty to a few," he added. He concluded with the words of an erstwhile supporter of Hitler, who later became a victim of political tyranny in Nazi Germany, Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote of his tribulations:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out for me.

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