October 15, 2003

BOTSWANA: Constitution to be rid of tribalist clauses

The government is poised to submit an amendment bill to parliament before the end of the year which is aimed at ridding the constitution of tribal references. President Festus Mogae said that the objective was to promote nation building by amending sections 77, 78 and 79 to render them tribally neutral. The amendment follows a presidential commission of inquiry set up in July 2000 under former local government and land minister Patrick Balopi "to uphold the non-discriminatory position of the constitution on tribal matters." Sections 77, 78 and 79 of the constitution guarantee ex-officio membership to the house of chiefs only to the Tswana-speaking tribes. It advanced the colonial inequality between ruling and subject communities to so-called principal tribes and minority tribes, whose rulers as sub-chiefs could be elected members.

The Chieftainship Act states that tribe means, "the Bamangwato tribe, the Batawana tribe, the Bakgatla tribe, the Bakwena tribe, the Bangwaketse tribe, the Bamalete tribe, the Barolong tribe and the Batlokwa tribe." These are Tswana-speaking tribes. The Tribal Territories Act also defines tribal territory with respect to these tribes, which means that land must be distributed under the jurisdiction of these tribes. Membership of the House of Chiefs is important because it is a constitutional recognition of the existence of a particular tribe and lack of representation means exclusion from participating in the development in the customary law of the country. The United Nations International Convention on the elimination of racial discrimination urged the Botswanan government in 1999 to adopt measures to protect and support minority groups and languages, in particular within the country's education system. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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