Against what some of Botswana’s legislators would prefer, a ‘classic thong’ imprinted with Botswana’s coat of arms sells for an equivalent of P66 online. It has also emerged that use of this symbol was not authorised by the state president as the law requires.
In terms of the law, “no person shall display or use the coat of arms for any purpose without the permission in writing of the President and in accordance with the terms and conditions of such permission.”
The unauthorised use of the coat of arms may be more widespread than is apparent. Until not very long ago, a local private tertiary institution used that symbol without the authority of the president. However, the symbol has since been removed from the institution’s web pages.
Two online stores cafepress.com and pennantshop.com are also exploiting the coat of arms commercially without the permission of the president.
“We definitely do not have any record of the companies you cite having ever applied to this Office for permission to use the coat of arms,” says Dr, Jeff Ramsay, Office of the President spokesperson.
The challenge of protecting this symbol is greater than reining in local offenders because unauthorised use also occurs abroad.
Both cafepress.com and pennantshop.com are based in the United States from where they manufacture and sell their products. Items imprinted with Botswana’s coat of arms include T-shirts ÔÇô including those specially designed for dogs, jerseys, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, bibs, throw pillows, barbeque aprons and thongs. The latter would particularly irk some people. There was a huge controversy seven years ago when a Miss Thong beauty contest was held in Gaborone and, at one point, MPs rapped the organisers on the knuckles during a parliamentary debate.
The irony of it all is that cafepress.com and pennantshop.com claim copyright on items imprinted with a symbol that they themselves do not have permission to use. Pennantshop.com warns that using its images without authorization is a violation of the US and international copyright laws, that offenders will be prosecuted and that it regularly polices its web logs to identify unauthorised use of its products.
Another state property that is jealously guarded by the presidency is the word “national.” When the Botswana National Front came into being, use of the word was not restricted. However, decades later when some of the party’s members broke away to form their own party, they initially wanted to call it the “National Democratic Front.” As with use of the coat of arms, they had to seek the permission of the president but made the judgment that it would not be easy to get it and, instead, settled for New Democratic Front.
Botswana’s coat of arms took the collective effort of at least three colonial housewives, a colonial administrator and professional artists at the College of Heralds in the United Kingdom to design.
In his book, “Under Two Flags in Africa” George Winstanley writes that competition for the coat of arms drew two “good entries” from Lady Fawcus and Lady England. However, the entries were not good enough for the cabinet which instructed Winstanley to blend “the best in both”.
Winstanley, who is now back home in the UK, makes the following recollection in his book: “My wife made the sketch as directed and after cabinet approval this was submitted to the College of Heralds in the UK who made more alterations and produced a final design.
Zebras symbolise the abundant wildlife in the country, as well as alluding to black/white cooperation, the ivory tusk also refers to the wild life, the ox head and the stalk of sorghum refer to the agricultural resources, the interlocking cogwheels suggest the mineral potential and the wavy blue lines emphasise the importance of water in an arid country such as Botswana. The supporting word PULA ÔÇô the Setswana for rain ÔÇô suggests happiness and optimism.”