For the past couple of months I have observed that each time there is an Islamic holiday, the Botswana National Front issues a greeting message signed by party spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa.
Let me state, first of all, that there is nothing wrong with him doing this and that Islam itself has made immense contribution to civilization, especially in the fields of Science and Mathematics. Thanks to Muslims scholars, we now have trigonometry and thanks to this same scholars, the world has seen great advances in optics and astronomy. As a matter of fact, Ibn Al-Haytham, a pioneer in scientific methodology who was Muslim, is often referred to as the “world’s first true scientist.” At this point in time, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and some of its followers happen to be Batswana. As a democratic country, Botswana allows these people to freely practice their religion and there can be nothing wrong with the BNF sending goodwill messages to a religious community.
I feel I should also state that at a personal level, I have the greatest respect for Islam and interact fully with the Muslim community. However, there is something that baffles me about the BNF’s actions. Why is it that its messages are confined to Islam when there are many more religions in Botswana? In case Mohwasa doesn’t know, Botswana also has Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and those who follow African traditional religions.
In April this year, Botswana’s Christians, some of whom are members of the BNF, observed Good Friday and Easter Monday holidays but there was no greeting message from the party. The Roman Catholic Church – one of the largest denominations in Botswana with a quite sizeable BNF membership, got a new Pope in June this year, but Mohwasa did not send the local diocese a congratulatory message to acknowledge this historic development. A few days ago, Bishop Boniface Setlalekgosi celebrated 50 years of service to this same church but this significant event passed unnoticed by the BNF. What is the party telling us?
Religion is a very useful institution in society largely because believers put so much of themselves in it. It can also be divisive when one group feels that its religion is better than that of other groups and as politicians we should be careful not to cause unnecessary friction in our dealings with religious groups. I was shocked when I read in newspapers three years ago that a Botswana Congress Party councillor in Mochudi ordered a Muslim mourner at a funeral to take off his religious hat. I was even more shocked that he was unapologetic about it when interviewed by the media. As Batswana, we have no major religious differences but it is people like this councillor who are using religion to divide us. Mohwasa should not fall in the same trap.
As I stated, I have no problem with him sending these greeting messages but he should not be seen to be showing biasness for one religion over all others. Does this biasness mean that (God forbid) in the event of a BNF administration, Islam would get preferential treatment at the expense of other religions? If not, why is it getting this preferential treatment now, at a time that the party doesn’t have state power?
I am also alive to the fact that the party could, for its own reasons, be trying to carry favour with the Muslim community. If that is indeed the case, it is irresponsible to use religion to gain political favour.
John Mazabathi Mokandla
Specially nominated Councillor