Botswana University panel debates controversial issue of homosexuality

More than 100 people attended a panel discussion focusing on homosexuality as a contemporary issue in Botswana staged at the University of Botswana on Wednesday November 9.

Organised by Masters of Education students from the university, the event was judged a success despite the controversial topic. The university library auditorium was packed to the rafters by 4pm even though the talk didn’t start until 5:30pm.

Kefilwe Batsalelwang the class secretary of the master students said “the objective of this panel discussion is to raise awareness and sensitize students and the public at large on the issues of sexuality.

The panellists included Caine Youngman, a self-identifying gay man, Duma Boko, a human rights lawyer and the president of Botswana National Front (BNF), Anna Chalmers a human rights defender from the Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV/Aids (Bonela), Pastor Biki Butale from the Evangelical Church and a Ms Mahloane a guidance teacher.

The debate was opened by the preacher who talked about how God condemns homosexuality. Pastor Butale said, “I do not hate homosexuals, I do have friends and there are gay people I know. Anyway I have issues with homosexuality because even God hates homosexuality. If a nation sins against God it will affect everyone. Don’t we think the sins that the nation has are enough?”

From the human rights and law perspective Boko opened his presentation by asking how many in the audience indulged in oral sex. While many in the audience did not understand what their engaging in oral sex had to do with the theme, Boko explained his question saying, “Section 164 criminalizes oral sex not homosexuality. How many have committed this offence? We need to address that this law does not only affect homosexuals but also addresses the so-called heterosexuals who engage in oral sex, self pleasure and the use of sex toys. By this interpretation they will fall foul of this law.”

Boko asked, “Who is the victim in same sex relationship? If there is no victim what is the government’s business in people`s bedrooms? The police who arrested [Mr Utjiwa] Kanane [in a well-known incident in December 1994 where he and a British citizen Graham Norrie were charged with engaging in unnatural acts and indecent practices] should have used the time and resources to arrest people engaging in robbery. They should not have been interested in who is sexually attracted to whom.”

Boko added, “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to demonstrate to the Court of Appeal how wrong they were about Kanane`s case. And if I can’t, in [October] 2014 [the date of Botswana’s next general election] I might be sitting in a different position to change this nonsense.”

Pastor Butale who has been seen as anti-gay said Botswana would not condone homosexuality. He said, “Gay people in Botswana are not arrested here, as they do what they want. But as regards their wanting to go get married, adopt children and also have gay prides, we are not going to allow that. We are saying not in our country. And if they want to do those things they should do it in countries that allow that.”

He added, “I do not want my son to come home with another man and say I want to marry this man, I will not accept this lobola (bride price). We all know that the gay advocacy has lots of money because it has been researched. But come [the general election of] 2014, the Church will stand up and will say do not vote for that one [if he supports gay issues].”

Caine Youngman, who said he is not ashamed and will not apologise for his sexual orientation, talked about the discrimination faced by LGBTI people in Botswana. He said as a result, the community was faced with cases of suicide, depression, blackmail, abuse and discrimination at health care facilities.

Youngman said, “As a gay man I contribute to government’s existence and yes I have the right to put my agenda as the government agenda. I want Batswana to know that I do not need tolerance, but seek equality as a gay citizen of Botswana.”

Despite the fact that homosexuality in Botswana is associated with western influence, the panellists went out of their way to show that they grew up in Botswana and lived rural life with no western influences.

Mahloane, the guidance teacher from a local senior school said the nation’s teachers are faced with “this situation, this thing, in their schools and children of nowadays are very assertive as they watch television. We may give them choices but at the end they make their own decision.”

Mahloane concluded by saying the panellists should interrogate if it is wrong to be homosexual. “If it is, what can we do? Imagine if it was your child. If you kick them out of your house they go and will continue live the same life.”

Dr B.M Mazile the University of Botswana Gender Studies lecturer closed the discussion by thanking the panellists and the students who made the day successful. He said, “Normally I do not prepare the topics for my students as I wouldn’t know what kind of students they are so I normally ask them to choose their own topic, and am very happy and proud of these students as this is a contemporary issue and they thought to start with debate, Batswana never debate issues.”

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