Author: Keletso Thobega

Botswana clamps down on foreign pastors

(Pic: Flickr / EL@Seattle)
(Pic: Flickr / EL@Seattle)

Charismatic churches are on the rise in Botswana, with pastors promising miracles in the forms of successful marriages, work promotions, financial freedom, children for the barren – the list is endless. However, the government of Botswana has come out strongly against these “wolves in sheep’s clothing“, threatening to deport them for their antics.

The country is currently considering a new policy that will give foreign pastors 30-day permits reserved for visitors and tourists instead of the usual 5-year permits allocated to them. In cases where foreign pastors apply for licences to operate their churches, they must have more than 250 listed congregants.

As reported in the Midweek Sun, former minister of labour and home affairs Peter Siele and Ntlo ya Dikgosi deputy chairperson Kgosi Lotlamoreng II started a campaign to curtail foreign pastors in 2010 and 2011  over concerns that they are are defrauding Batswana of their hard-earned money.

Some pastors have been accused of drug dealing, sponging money off locals, power struggles within their churches, failure to submit annual tax returns and preaching ill about President Ian Khama, which is akin to a crime in Botswana – you just don’t speak badly about the president!

Nigerian Prophet Peter Bollaward who was the helm of the Glory of the Latter Ministries in Gaborone was deported on February 8 after the ministry of labour and home affairs declared him a ‘prohibited immigrant’. He was reportedly detained for a few days before his deportation and questioned about the several millions in his ministry’s account and the fleet of expensive cars he drove.

In 2011 the flamboyant Pastor Frances Sakufiwa of Zambia, who ran the New Seasons Ministries and lived in Botswana for 15 years, was deported under a presidential order.  He was surrounded by controversy, mostly related to his roving eye. It’s alleged that the handsome, charming and married pastor was a womaniser who changed women as often as one changes underwear. A few days after he was booted out of the country, a group of women reportedly pleaded with the president to reverse his decision and allow Sakufiwa back into Botswana, claiming he was “highly anointed”.

However, other sources claim the pastor was sent packing from Botswana because of his politically inclined prophesies. Apparently the Khama government became increasingly nervous about his prophesies and the huge media attention they were attracting.

In an interview with the Midweek Sun last year, director of immigration Mabuse Pule stopped short of proclaiming that government would not tolerate foreign pastors. “They come here to abuse our people and push personal agendas. The pastors group themselves and see our own pastors as outcasts in their own country,” he said. He used the biblical analogy in Matthew 7:15 which likens such folk to wolves in sheep’s clothing. “God does not bring crooks here. We will not allow anyone to deceive our people using His name,” Pule said.

In Botswana, the title of pastor is synonymous with wealth and social prestige. Congregants pay tithes and purchase miracle water and other religious memorabilia from the church. Pastors also receive ‘gifts’ from congregants in the form of money, clothes and even vehicles for their blessings and help.

Many Batswana have deserted Methodist, UCCSA, Anglican, Roman Catholic and ZCC churches in favour of the charismatic churches that have sprung up. The latter are characterised by loud music, singing and dancing, vigorous preaching, promises of miracles,  and exorcising of  “devil spirits”.

An acquaintance was involved in a horrific car accident that left her bound to a wheelchair  for a few months. Now a congregant at the Universal Church, she can walk with a slight limp and vehemently believes that God used the pastor to heal her through the Holy Spirit. As a self-proclaimed agnostic, I’m never sure how to digest this except by pointing out how commercialised faith and God have become.

On the few occasions that I visited the Universal Church and New Seasons, I was struck by the high turnout of congregants, particularly the youth, who are dressed to kill and are enthusiastically dancing, singing and chanting praises. Church is the new “cool” in this country; a big social club. This is a choice many Batswana have made, and it’s clear that charismatic churches will continue to thrive despite government’s attempts to stop them. The people will believe who and what they want to believe.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Linguistic adventures: Learning Mandarin in Botswana

My friend Sedimale recently signed up for Chinese language classes at the University of Botswana, figuring it would be an interesting challenge to add another language to her multilingual ambitions. “I might even wind up as a Mandarin teacher, go on a work exchange programme and move to China and find myself a nice Chinese husband,” she told me half-jokingly. Several lessons later, she seems to be having the time of her life. Apart from the empowering experience of learning a new language, she has made new friends from diverse backgrounds and her world has opened to a different culture.

A decade ago no one would have imagined that Mandarin Chinese would be a popular language to learn in Botswana. Nowadays it is fast gaining popularity in urban areas, with both the young and old vying for a place in the evening and weekend classes at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.

Due to China’s evident growing economic influence and the large number of Chinese in the country,  many Batswana are opting to learn more about the country, its culture, history, lifestyle and of course language, especially as there are many opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges.

(Pic: Flickr /
(Pic: Flickr /

Botswana and China share good economic ties and a cordial friendship. China is Botswana’s third largest trade partner and one of the country’s big diamond consumers. In 2009, it was an estimated that about 6000 Chinese have made Botswana their home, with most of them settled in urban areas where they operate their businesses from. The Chinese are major players in the local construction, manufacturing and service provision industries.  In the past, China, through the local embassy, has constructed two primary schools and a multi-purpose youth centre. Earlier this year, China donated R100-million to Botswana for the implementation of various projects. One of them is the Community Natural Resource Management programme, which offers community-based organisations training, mentoring and coaching on resource management.

But away from official visits and trade agreements, the ties between the locals and the Chinese who live here aren’t that clear. There’s often a communication breakdown as many Batswana are not fluent in English, while the Chinese here only speak Mandarin. The language barriers have made it difficult for both parties to establish friendships and easy relations. Although they are often accused of selling cheap products, most of the Chinese-owned stores target low-income earners, and prices are often linked to the quality of the sold product. Even neighbouring Zimbabweans who work and plight their trade in the country regularly purchase goods from the Chinese stores here to re-sell at home.

There’s no shopping complex or mall in Gaborone that does not have a Chinese store. Most of them sell everything from green tea to hair pieces, clothes, shoes, bags and beauty products. There’s a local joke that the only thing you can’t get from a Chinese store is a baby!  The prices are usually low but bargaining is the order of the day. I have often bought my son toy cars and dresses for myself after negotiating a discount of 5 to 10 bucks per item.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Botswana, where Mandarin lessons are taught, opened in 2009. It now has 10 teachers, several volunteers and over 2000 students. To date, it has awarded 60 scholarships and a further 260 are expected to be rolled out between 2013 and 2016. Chen Zhilu, director of the institute, has confirmed the high demand for Chinese language lessons. Chinese is also a language option in the university’s BA Humanities programme and is one of the 25 top-ranked courses.

Learning Chinese in school is also an option – the institute has sites in two revered private schools, Westwood and Maru-a-pula, and there are plans to open sites in public schools too.

I will be taking up Chinese lessons next semester. In the meantime, my friend Sedimale has been teaching me the basics every time we meet. A few days ago, I caught my partner off guard when I clasped my hand to my heart and declared: “Wo ai ni” (“I love you” in Mandarin). He gave me a blank stare but this could all change in the next few months if I can convince him to join me in this linguistic adventure.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Praying for rain in Botswana

When a few drops of rain spluttered on the ground on Sunday, my son and his friends, who a few minutes before had been running around shirtless, ran across the yard excitedly screeching, “Pula, Pula!” (Rain! Rain!). Although I warned them that they would catch a cold, even I couldn’t resist the joy in the moment as I stepped out for a few minutes to feel the slithering cold drops on my skin. Perhaps the gods had finally answered our continued prayers?

Last month, during a series of kgotla (an open court area where members of the public convene) meetings, President Ian Khama encouraged Batswana to come together to seek divine intervention and collectively pray for rain. He declared September a month of prayer for rain. Many religious entities heeded his call. Various churches converged at the Gaborone Dam for prayers. In the midst of song, dance and chants, the men and women in attendance broke into loud heartfelt prayers, hands raised to the skies, begging the Lord above for the heavens to open.

Botswana's President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)
Botswana’s President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)

The water level of the Gaborone Dam, which is the main water supplier for the south of the district, currently stands at 19%, the lowest it has been in history. According to the Water Utilities chief executive officer Godfrey Mudanga, at that capacity and without rain, the dam can only supply the nation with water for the next eight months. Although grey skies frequently tease Botswana with the promise of downpours, we only ever get drizzles which soon make way for the scorching sun. It has rained very little in the past four consecutive years, particularly in the southern districts. The past year’s rainy season (November to March) was recorded as the worst by the local meteorological services.

The country is already experiencing dire water shortages, particularly in the southern districts. The Bokaa Dam in the west of Gaborone stands at 10%, while Nnywane Dam, situated to the south of the city, dried up in March. The South Africa Water Authority has agreed to supply 22-million cubic litres per day to Botswana; but only if the water level in its Molatedi Dam rises higher than 26%.

The long dry spells have frustrated crop farmers, who rely on the rains for their livelihoods. Although Batswana and the meteorological services are hopeful that it will rain again, the dry grass, sullen soil, brown trees, thin cows and dried up rivers don’t paint a positive picture. And if we do enjoy some much-needed downpours, it’s uncertain whether this will be enough to fill up the drying rivers and dams.

Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)
Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)

This is not the first time Botswana, a semi-arid country, has experienced drought. The country has endured spates of dry spells in the past two decades. However, with climate change looming, it’s anticipated that conditions are likely to worsen. With so little rain, water shortages are common and government has had to enforce water rations for domestic and industrial usage.

Government has spearheaded the North-South water pipeline to address national development constraints and to transport water to the south, which is the industrial and economic hub of the country. The pipeline begins at Letsibogo Dam in the north and runs for approximately 360km, with pumping stations in Palapye, Marolane and Serorame Valley in the central south of the country. The first phase of this project was completed in 2000; the second phase is expected to be completed early next year.

Meanwhile, a traditional doctor named Monthusi Sekonopo has claimed the country is experiencing water shortages because President Khama, who is also the chief of the Bangwato,  has not heeded his powers as a “rainmaker”. Sekonopo, who is also president of the Botswana Traditional doctors Association, told a local newspaper, the Midweek Sun, that this was revealed to him in a series of dreams.  He asserted that on September 1 every year at 4am, Khama should be at the kgotla in Serowe Village, summoning the rains and declaring the beginning of the plough season. The traditional doctor also said that the president was a born chief and therefore has other duties beyond politics that he needs to see to.

His wild claims aside, the fact remains that rain continues to be scarce across the country. When the heavens do open for us, it’s no exaggeration that the whole country will be filled with the same euphoria that envelopes us when the national soccer team wins a game.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Festive funerals celebrated after tears

What do an alcoholic beverage and a funeral have in common? An ‘after-tears’ drinking spree. In Botswana, as in many other African countries, funerals are a colourful feature of every weekend. They are a time to comfort the bereaved family and give the deceased a decent send-off. But while funerals used to be a conservative, somber affair they have now become social events of note, and booze is a big part of it all.

What do an alcohol beverage and a funeral have in common? An ‘after-tears’ drinking spree. (Pic: stock.xchng)
What do an alcohol beverage and a funeral have in common? An ‘after-tears’ drinking spree. (Pic: stock.xchng)

The endless demands on careers and home lives make it difficult to find time to meet old friends and relatives. For many a funeral is not only a chance to feast but a rare chance to mingle, unwind with relatives and reunite with friends. The after-tears, which is more prominent in urban and semi-urban areas, is the perfect chance to catch up with that cousin who had a baby daughter a few weeks ago, the relative with a knee problem and the successful friend you went to school with but haven’t seen in years. Think of it as a picnic that’s not really a picnic.

Alcohol too is part and parcel of Botswana society. In a country with few recreational facilities, hitting the bottle is a habit many people have adopted and there are no boundaries on where people can enjoy their drinks. Neither a 30% alcohol levy nor restricted operating hours for bars and liquor stores have altered the drinking patterns in this small country.

The after-tears drinking spree is a social practice common in European countries like Britain and Ireland. After the funeral, attendees at a wake may enjoy a drink and propose toasts or make short speeches reminiscing about the deceased. In Botswana it’s not an official occasion but effort is put into celebrating the late person in song, dance and drink.

Although traditionalists, conservatives, religious pundits and teetotalers are often critical of this new trend of drinking after burials and throwing massive “chill sessions” that stretch late into the evenings, mourners, especially the youth, aren’t perturbed. Many young people’s lives are claimed by car accidents, passion killings and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. Scores of funerals are held for young blood every weekend. “Gone too soon” is often the slogan of the day.

Mourners converge
After the funeral and burial, mourners converge at one venue, whether a local bar, field or at the deceased’s home to share a drink. If the person who passed away was popular, a regular pub crawler or drank alcohol, rest assured the after-tears will be a bigger affair, just short of being a bash.

Women often come with their heads uncovered showing off new hairstyles. Some arrive dressed in skimpy dresses and too-high heels reminiscent of red light district workers as they prance around like peacocks. The men are also never left behind in their smart suits and trendy accessories.

Cars are parked. Boots are opened. Cooler boxes are pulled out. Bottles are corked. Ice is mixed. Drinks are poured. Alcohol flows like the River Nile. Camp chairs are placed around. There’s a lot of handshaking, backslapping, air kissing and hugging. Those who haven’t seen each other in a long time hold on much longer. There’s lots of chattering, gossiping, laughter, winking and reminiscing.

The crowd increases as more people arrive. Some look for new lovers, make friends or expand their business networks. People are introduced. Numbers are exchanged. Deals are sealed. As time goes on the fever and tempo increase, and more drinks are poured and downed in sips and gulps. Conversation touches on everything from politics and business to the latest scandal.

As the sun starts to set, someone will boldly suggest music. It will start out mellow but become louder and thumping. A few people will dance or sing. By late evening, voices are too loud, speech is slurred, movements are sloppy and some eyes are red. Laughter is too boisterous. Smiles are animated. There’s a lot of touching and rubbing. Here and there, there will be a small misunderstanding fuelled by inebriation. As night falls, everyone will stumble to their cars, the tears of earlier forgotten.

Next weekend it will be at another, packed place. New faces. Old faces. There’ll be long speeches and depressing hymns. There’ll be lots of food and drink, fanfare and activity as Batswana embrace the liberal idea of celebrating life instead of wallowing in sadness.

Keletso Thobega is a features and copywriter based in Botswana.