Thursday, September 24, 2020

Is intolerance on the march in our public discourse?

There are disturbing signs that as a nation we could be veering away from our time-honoured values of tolerance, patience and respect for one another in the discourse our public debates.

Recently there have been serious differences of opinion with regard to the direction of the country.
That is all well and fine.

Not only should such differences of opinion be expected, they also should more importantly be encouraged.

In every country, especially in a democracy such as ours it is to be expected that people would differ with regard to where they want the country to go ÔÇô politically and economically. Such differences of opinion can only be settled by public debates.

However when such debates degenerate into abusive and vulgar language, many people recoil and seek other avenues to push their views.

History shows that such avenues are not always peaceful.
And with Botswana’s economy going through what may well be the most difficult phase since independence such differences of opinion are no doubt bound to get shriller.
In recent times there have been calls for a change of the economic model.
There also have been calls for constitutional reforms.

In some other instances there have been calls for electoral reforms.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the calls for a paradigm shift or for the maintenance of the status quo are at the centre of the storm currently sweeping across the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

As our history has shown over the last forty or fifty years, as a people we are nowhere near to being a homogenous nation. That same history has shown that contrary to what obtains in other countries in Botswana our diversity has often proved to be our enduring strength and unity.
The reason for that is simple.

While we have celebrated our diversity, we have always had a readiness to embrace each other no matter how different or wild their views.

Unlike our brethren elsewhere in the continent going to war as a war of resolving our differences has never been a part of culture.

To paraphrase the late British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, we have chosen to jaw-jaw instead of war-war.

Having said that, it is disheartening to note that since the buildup to last year’s General Elections the discourse of our public debates has been getting uncharacteristically untidy.
One would have expected the emotions to settle down to normal once the verdict was out after the people had decided for themselves who they wanted as their leaders.
But that has not been so.

If anything the debates are growing even more acerbic.
We feel it is high time we remembered the inevitable destructive end results of debates that are meant to humiliate one another.

While we encourage criticism, it has always been our belief that such criticism should be measured, circumspect and above all constructive.

One only has to listen to radio phone in programmes and read the opinion pages of newspapers to come to the conclusion that we are truly on a path to self-destruction.
Of course our leadership is not without blame.

Botswana is currently led people who are divisive.

Our leadership is insensitive to those who hold views different from them.
They only encourage a reward system that only recognizes those who worship and praise them.
Such form of patronage will in the long term divide this country.
What we are seeing are the early signs.

The end results are what other African countries have gone though ÔÇô civil wars, ethnic divisions and general strife.


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