Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Banika says citizenship laws biased against the poor

The Chobe Representative in Ntlo ya DikgosiKgosi Rebecca Banika, has lamented a legal regimen that she believes favours well-off expatriates at the expense of poor ones.

Through a motion that she tabled last Thursday afternoon, Banika requested the government to do away with legal requirement in the Citizenship Act that provides that foreigners applying for citizenship must be “sufficiently” fluent in Setswana. The Act also empowers both the president and the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs to waive this requirement “under special circumstances.” Banika said that in practically all instances, the latter provision is exercised in favour of the well-off (she cited businesspeople) and that poor immigrants who struggle with Setswana are never exempted. She pointed out that in some places like the North West District and Chobe, some immigrants who have lived in Botswana for decades still can’t speak Setswana and struggle to qualify for citizenship. Giving an example from her area (Pandamatenga), she said that some Nambya, Ndebele and San immigrants don’t speak a word of Setswana and are thus denied social services.

Banika said that the exemption is itself limited to individuals and not their family members. That, she added, creates complications when wives and children of such individuals have to take over a business. The other point that the Pandamatenga kgosi raised was that it is ironic that the government would retain the provision in question when more and more Batswana are acculturating into a western identity and don’t speak Setswana themselves.

However, the motion failed to garner enough support to gain passageExpressing a sentiment that would later be echoed by other members, Kgosi Disho Ndhowe of the Okavango Region said that developing competence in local languages is evidence that one has embraced host cultural communities and that failure to do so could be a sign of arrogance. The general sentiment of members who got a chance to speak was that the provision should be retained and it is appropriate to have stringent conditions for immigrants to naturalise.

Giving the government’s position on the motion, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Annah Mokgethi, said that it is international practice to make competence in a national language a condition to qualify for citizenship. She added that language is an important cultural aspect and an integral part of belonging with both the community that one settles in and nation that s/he wants to be a citizen of.  She encouraged members of the house to encourage immigrants who settled in their respective cultural communities to learn local languages so that when they are naturalised as citizens, they can easily fit in. Revealing internal processes at her ministry, Mokgethi said that the point-based assessment tool that is used for citizenship applications awards 10 points for language competence.

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