Monday, January 24, 2022

A blot on Botswana’s social landscape

Intimate murder or femicide is a heinous terrible personal atrocity that affects families and communities. In 2003, which had the highest cases of femicide, a shocking 747 people were murdered by their lovers.

Although there are no official statistics, to date there are hundreds of domestic violence cases before the police. More than 20 are of femicide.

Tsholofelo Mogotsi has lived to tell the story of her near death experience at the hands of her boyfriend about six years ago.

“Ours seemed like a match made in heaven and we even spoke of marriage. He proposed marriage and we met each other’s families. Since we lived in Gaborone, away from the prying eyes of our families, we thought we decided to co-habit. That was a big mistake on my part!”

Mogotsi’s once-loving partner became a control freak.

“We were always together. He even dropped me off and picked me up at work every day. As time went by he cut me off from family and friends,” she explains.

One fateful Friday evening, returning home from a ‘chill session’ with colleagues she was met by her angry boyfriend in the living room.

“He accused me of cheating, especially as my phone was off the whole evening. He went on about how ungrateful I am and how I was a slut who deserved to be taught a lesson. I was nervous but hoped that he would ease off and we would enjoy amazing make-up sex,” she says.

That was not to be. The incensed boyfriend stormed into the kitchen and returned wielding a kitchen knife. Mogotsi says her palms were sweaty, her throat dry and there was a knot in her stomach. She felt her sphincter muscles loosen. He stabbed her three times but she managed to escape.

“Luckily some of my neighbours hurried towards our house when they heard the commotion. They rushed me to hospital,” she narrates. She was admitted for a week. During that time, her boyfriend had committed suicide by swallowing rat poison several minutes after her ordeal was buried.

She has buried the hatchet with his family and is trying to piece her life back together. “I have the knife scars on my belly and waist to remind me of that unsavoury incident. I still cannot comprehend how a man so sweet, calm and collected changed so quickly,” she says with a despondent look.

Domestic violence and intimate murder of a partner (femicide) is a blemish on the flawless perception of Botswana’s social construct. After all, isn’t this nation often said to be stable and peace loving?

Any sign of dysfunctional behaviour and attitudes are swept beneath the carpet. It’s a shame and embarrassment. This cannot afford to be a nation that is seen to abuse and hurt its women.

Far from solely being a Botswana problem, femicide is a global phenomenon that has left many with their breaths held ÔÇô shocked, hurt and disappointed.

On the Valentine’s Day of 2012, the world awoke to news that South African Paralympics Oscar Pistorius had killed his girlfriend in a hail of bullets. Later, in a teary state, he said that he had mistaken her for an intruder. Many weren’t convinced.

While those familiar with the crime situation in the country sympathized with him, when incriminating evidence showing him to be abusive, short tempered and obsessed with guns, came to the fore, many began to question the credibility of his version.

Before Judge Masipa has even handed down her judgment, many have already tainted Pistorius as a murderer who battled a low self-esteem, couldn’t control his temper and intentionally ended the life of a promising model and lawyer.

A report compiled by Dr Tsayang, Sheldon Weeks and Nonofho Ndobochani for the Botswana society, brings some interesting perceptions to the fore.

A panel discussion which had on its list of Panelists University of Botswana lecturer Logong Raditlhokwa, Keletso Makgekgenene from Gender Affairs and lawyer Bongi Radipati, agreed that femicide is seemingly becoming a norm in our social landscape and response to the challenge is not urgent.

Raditlhokwa pointed out that the problem is that the issue is perceived as an individual problem and not a societal challenge. He suggested meaningful interventions encouraged by politicians. He also blamed the crumbling social fibre that has seen loss of values, respect and the erosion of traditional patriarchy set-up.

Radipati noted the importance of questioning how femicide can fit the legal framework. He also pointed out a need to re-visit how we respond to and punish victimizers. Do we need more laws? Or is femicide simply a moral issue?

For her part, Makgekgenene noted that we must explore the legal parameters that deal with effect as opposed to cause. She also noted that the transformation of family life and gender relations had changed, but men were not taught how to deal with these changes.

Non governmental organizations (NGOs) shoulder the burden of sheltering and counseling victims of gender based violence. However, the greatest challenge remains limited funding.

Hampered by scant resources, most NGOs are faced with the mammoth task of downscaling services, or giving limited assistance to victims even where they realize their lives are under risk.

In most cases, it can be a tiring process because at the end of the day, it’s a matter that affects people with biases and pre-conceived ideas. The police are often expected to champion such cases, but while they do play a good role, more could be done.
An inside source who asked to comment on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the greatest challenge lies with training and implementing the ideas drafted on paper. “Convictions in such cases are few and wide apart. Sometimes victims are urged to drop charges, by family and even police officers. Unfortunately, some police officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with domestic matters and often decide to encourage couples to deal with matters at home. It can be awkward and embarrassing to muscle into people’s personal details in attempt to mediate or lay charges. Implementing agents and institutions lack practical knowledge on domestic abuse and femicide,” he explains.

It’s yet unclear how much government allocates to gender-based violence because spending on implementation of related legislation is invisible in the national budget expenditure. Domestic violence and femicide is also not a matter often touched on at governmental or parliament level, probably because of the sensitive nature of the matter. Intimate murders were often a point of discussion during former president Festus Mogae’s tenure in office.

Last year he came out guns blazing condemning femicide and stating worry over increasing cases of domestic violence. He also controversially reportedly said there’s a disturbing leniency by police and judges in the cases.

For all the legal and moral roles played in femicide, lurking beneath is a dangerous member of society: the psychopath.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to identify them as most appear like decent people getting on with their lives. However, acclaimed psychologist Dr Bernhardt cautions that when the veneer of niceness dissolves, someone a lot more sinister may lurk on the other side.

“This person may display devious behavior and a lack of taking responsibility for his own actions and situations. There are two kinds of psychopaths. The first is superficially charming and then becomes increasingly torturous and destructive. The other, often described as “cold” is the blunted, glaring, angry individual who elicits feeling of a predatory danger. The former may demonstrate greater sophistication but the outcome is generally the same ÔÇô death.

Criminologist Craig Traub agrees. “In any romantic relationship, an individual, particularly women, need to be aware of the extent of the rebelliousness or ‘bad boyness’; she may find appealing. Other signs of a propensity for violence include: mild to severely controlling behavior, accusations of adultery, narrowing the woman’s friendships.

Basically, the need for control and to establish dominance or power over the woman’s financial situation, movements, thoughts and behavior are also red flags. A clinical psychologist Dr Subramaney asserts that several factors could make someone violent. These include personality factors (anger, impulsiveness and psychopathic), cognitive factors, as well as perceived stress, poor social support and having the means for violence (guns, knives, axes).

He also points out the importance of the person’s history like child rearing, possible childhood abuse, hospilisations, their behavioural patterns or the presence of any anti social behavior, substance abuse and regular intoxication.

All three agree that it’s often easy to identify a psychopath. The three main signs are: glib and superficial charm (they put on what professionals call a ‘mask of sanity’, that is likeable and pleasant and often do good deeds to gain people’s trust, grandiose self perception(psychopaths believe they are more powerful than they are) and a constant need for stimulation.


Read this week's paper