Monday, April 19, 2021

Opposition parties defy government

Opposition political parties were yesterday (Saturday) expected to go ahead with their planned march, despite government’s refusal to give them a permit to do so. The opposition parties, Botswana Movement for Democracy, Botswana Congress Party and Botswana National Front, had planned a march and a subsequent rally at which they would declare solidarity with the striking public servants.

After government refused to budge, the joint opposition indicated that they will go ahead with the planned March as it is their constitutional right to do so.

One of the opposition’s legal minds, Dick Bayford, on Friday revealed that workers will march from GSS grounds while members of the opposition will march from Old Naledi.

On May 9th the opposition submitted an application to hold a march and a subsequent rally at which they would declare solidarity with the striking public servants. The application was denied on May 10th because of “circumstances beyond government’s control”.

The opposition was also barred from holding the rally at the GSS grounds, and also at the bus rank. In the end they decided to hold the rally at White City.

At a press briefing last week BNF President Duma Boko said the opposition will launch an urgent application with the High Court seeking a declaration that government’s decision was unlawful.
However, Bayford said they decided to abort the urgent application as procedure dictates that they first give the Attorney General 30 days’ statutory notice.

“We will submit the notice on Monday, after which we will challenge the constitutionality of the Public Order Act,” he said.

At the rally, the opposition was expected to make a series of demands, the thrust of which meant to point out that the mismanagement of the ongoing public sector strike is a symptom of chronic problems of governance, neglect of duty and abuse of public office by the BDP government.

Boko said Section 3 of the constitution confers freedom of association, expression and assembly. He added that this is an overarching rights conferring provision of the constitution, as such freedoms are a basic provision in a democratic society. He said the rights ensure contentment and fulfillment, assist in the discovery of truth and strengthen the peoples’ capacity to participate in decision making.

“By denying us the opportunity to march, government is essentially desecrating the constitution. Anybody who has the audacity to point fingers at others and accuse them of disobeying the law must first ensure that he respects the provisions of Section 3 of the constitution,” he said.

Boko said Section 4(3) of the Public Order Act binds regulating officers (police) to act to curtail any disturbances if they have reasonable cause to believe that the march or rally will result in breach of peace.

“But the police officers have never indicated any apprehension. We, therefore, believe that their actions are outside the purpose and letter of the law. They cannot do as they please because what we seek is protected by law. How can we be free if those who are charged with protection and enforcement of the law desecrate those laws with impunity?” charged Boko.

Boko further warned that they cannot allow government to violate their rights anymore, adding that the opposition will act to defend Botswana’s democratic ideals.

“We are being very polite and we may lose patience anytime. We have been acting with admirable restraint and we are at the end of our tether,” he said.

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