|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
Homosexuality is a relatively new phenomenon in Botswana, having only become publicly visible in the 1980s. Most likely, later. Then, Botswana thought of it as a European practice, or otherwise, a cultural aberration born of the trying conditions of the mines in South Africa.
Lesbianism was then unheard of. If it was, it was not discussed at the same level as 'homosexuality' practiced by men. There is no telling how prevalent the practice was in reality because the practitioners were fearful of public exposure. The larger society found the practice abhorrent, un-Christian and, you might say, un-African. That was expressed in the law that forbids same-sex sexual interaction.
Some nations do not only permit sex between people of the same sex, but there are fervent campaigns, especially in the Americas and Europe, that seek legalisation of the right of homosexuals and lesbians to marry.
Needless to say, the manner in which these societies respond to the challenge of providing legal sanction for same sex activity varies according to culture. The legal history of the society and the political persuasion of the rulers. Muslim and Christian fundamentalist political regimes banned homosexuality, as did most of the pseudo-socialist dictatorships of the old 'eastern bloc' countries. The founding fathers of Botswana, like the Christianised kings who ruled before national independence was granted in 1966, liked to think of this country as 'Christian'.Many of them were products of Tigerkloof and other Christian institutions wherever they found their education.
They made no effort to argue the facts and figures that made Botswana a Christian nation, rather than a country of many indigenous religions of the Basarwa, the Ikalanga speaking peoples, the Ba-Zezuru and the Boers, whose blend of Christianity excluded the indigenous Africans from the definition of humanity. In any case, on that account, the founding fathers would have held that indeed homosexuality was un-Christian, also deserving of being kept illegal.
There appears to be a growing tenor in some sections of civil society that advocates for the legalisation of homosexuality. They argue that sexual preference is a personal prerogative. They also argue that homosexuals are born that way. Otherwise, they are trained into that sexual behaviour by the manner in which they were brought up.
Botswana, many years after the developed countries started dealing with the challenges of sexual preference and how it should be reflected in the law, are now arguing the point in a more deliberate and vigorous way. Once again, at the tail-end of events! Former president, Festus Mogae discussed that issue - Is Homosexuality Un-African - with South African Justice Cameron, a self-declared homosexual and Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa at the weekend. LEGABIBO believes that 'The law has no place in the bedroom', according to one newspaper headline. Implicitly, that means they want sexual preference to be left to individual choice and that homosexuality should be decriminalised.
The question is: What is more important to Botswana and African society - food on the table and a job, or sexuality? The intellectuals are likely to respond: "Development is a multi-faceted enterprise and we have to look at all these problems as they arise". Isn't that rather confusing for the average man and woman whose preferred topic would be improved agricultural production and a sound education for their children, especially in Botswana's current state of underdevelopment?