Thousands of Batswana could see themselves disfranchised in the coming 2009 general elections because their national registration cards (Omang) expire this year – 2008, it emerged Friday in parliament.
It emerged further that the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs knew about the calamity the disfranchisement could bring about but sat on the ticking bomb.
“My ministry has always known that a total of 400 000 national registration cards will expire this year. Based on this knowledge, my ministry continues to encourage all Batswana whose cards will expire within eleven months to apply for renewals as a way to reduce late hour registrations,” said the Assistant Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri.
“With the general elections scheduled for 2009, my ministry is now going to intensify the public campaigns for the registration or renewals of expired national identity cards. The intention is to avoid those who qualify to vote to fail to exercise their rights on the reasoning that opportunities were not availed for both renewals and registration of Omang.”
To encourage renewals of Omang, the assistant minister said the ministry had adopted some strategies.
Among other strategies, the ministry will request MPs to disseminate information to the public at the kgotla meetings or whenever the opportunity arises.
Officials will be requested to address both District and Urban full councils to inform councilors to encourage Batswana in their wards to register and renew their expired Omang cards.
During the 1999 general elections, a similar election error nearly occurred and it almost disfranchised the majority of Batswana.
Though he won the battle, the then Attorney General, Phandu Skelemani, was pushed from one post to the other over the fault.
Barely two days before the Kgalagadi North by-election on Saturday, a similar incident that had the potential to disfranchise eligible voters is reported to have transpired.
The IEC boss is reported to have admitted the omission and requested those conducting the elections to permit those affected to vote.
“The names of people whose cards are ready for collection will be displayed in public places such as kgotlas, clinics, schools, etc.” said Matlhabaphiri. “The public notices will also carry messages encouraging those whose Omangs have expired or qualify to register for the Omang to register. The ministry will also engage the media, such as radio and newspapers, to encourage Batswana to renew their Omang cards and those who qualify to register to do so.”
Besides field trips that will be undertaken to register and distribute the cards to the applicants in villages and hinterlands, including schools, the ministry will discuss and cooperate with IEC for the joint publicity for voter registration, and renewal of expired Omangs exercise.
“All these efforts are intended to sensitise Batsawana to appreciate that the strength of their identity is the possession of the unexpired national identity cars,” said the assistant minister. “Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all Batswana who qualify to register for the national identity card do so.”
He urged all MPs to support the ministry during their meetings with members of their constituencies.
“This will reduce the expected congestion that is likely to arise towards the day of the general elections.”