The move by Government to amend Societies Act by increasing from 10 to 250 persons required to register a church has opened a can of worms.
The amendment exposed how a government that was ready to accommodate missionaries from the West is now not willing to accommodate those who are from Nigeria and other African countries that are also on religious assignments.
Members of Parliament termed the Bill xenophobic particularly as it targets foreign nationals from African countries.
Member of Parliament for Good Hope- Mabule James Mathokgwane said he had a problem with the Bill.
“I have a problem with the law. We are here targeting those from Nigeria and other African countries; we say that they are fraudsters who are only here to rob our people. Now it appears as if these economic missionaries are attracted by the economic status of this country. But then, in the past missionaries from the West flooded this very country and it was never a problem. Why is it that it is a problem now? Is it because now the missionaries coming into Botswana on religious assignments are African?”
Good Hope-Mabule legislator emphasized that the government should understand the meaning of a missionary. He described a missionary as a person who travels abroad on a religious assignment. He said it was never specified where the missionaries should come from therefore they are expected to come from all over the world, Africa included.
“This law is xenophobic. It particularly wants to target foreign nationals. It infringes on other people’s rights. Now it’s clear that government is regulating personal preferences or personal choices. This is an unjust law and must be disregarded. It is not for the very first time that churches had been attacked. History can show that and in most cases churches prevailed. I am hoping that this country will not pass a law that encourages xenophobia and those who support the law need deliverance.”
Mathokgwane called for the Christian community in Botswana to vote against those who support the Bill in 2019.
“The Christian majority should listen carefully because they are a majority in this country. Listen to the voices that support freedom of religion in this country and in 2019 when you finally cast your vote those words must ring in your head and when you put your mark you must know where you put that mark.”
Gaborone Central MP Phenyo Butale said sometimes when man made laws are not in harmony with divine laws people have an obligation to disregard it.
“If one wants to change something they need to identify a problem, you come here as the government to say you came with this Bill because of the mushrooming of the churches, really how is that a problem?”
He said the minister did not support his argument on the problem caused by mushrooming of churches.
“The minister is talking about criminality as a problem, now the problem is criminality not the mushrooming of churches. The framers of our constitution were very alive to the realities of our lives. They did not come up with a religion or choose a religion to say this is the religion that is sponsored by the state. They knew that if you allow a situation where those in power or government use a mechanism of government to then impose views of different religious denominations then there is going to be a problem,” said Butale emphasizing that if the Bill is passed into law it will be fraudulent.
Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu said he consulted Religious Umbrella Organisations and also addressed Kgotla meetings at Kasane, Molepolole, Tlokweng and Hukuntsi.
“The feedback I got during such consultations was generally supportive of the proposed amendments save for the proposed threshold of 250 persons for registration of religious organisations, where some people felt it was too high while others felt it needed to be increased.”
The Debate on the proposed Amendment continues.