The bill that will change how churches are being operated in particular the number of members required to register churches from 20 to 250 was passed by Parliament on Tuesday, but not before an emotional marathon debate on the controversial proposal. The debate became more emotional and chaotic with unsavoury utterances flying freely and deputy speaker Kagiso Molatlhegi struggling to maintain order.
It all started when Member of Parliament for Okavango Bagalatia Arone took the floor to make his contributions. The pint sized MP who is nicknamed Dj Rajoelina after the disc jockey turned politician and toppled government in Madagascar in 2009, did not waste time firing salvos at the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu-the proponent of the ammendment.
“Wena Batshu ba go romilwe boloi, o moruti hela wa Modimo ga o kake wa tla ka molao o ntseng jaana (You Batshu have been sent on witchcraft mission, as a pastor you cant' bring a bill like this),” said the emotionally charged BCP legislator as other MPs heckled him saying he was drunk.
Rising on a point of order, Minister of Health Dorcus Makgato called on the Speaker to ask Arone to withdraw his statement on witchcraft mission. “I am worried about the decorum of this house, the words that were uttered by the honorable MP were unparliamentarily,” said Malesu who was overruled by Molatlhegi. Hitting back, Arone who animated his debate by the use of gestures accused Malesu of double standards. “Just last week I heard that one MP threatened to strip naked in parliament and I wonder which one is unparliamentarily,” he asked rhetorically.
Arone called the described aspects of the proposed amendments as illogical, "distinctly devilish” and represent what the BDP government is and turning the heat to Batshu he accused him of being jealous to the new and foreign pastors.“Being a pastor yourself and increasing the threshold from 20 to 250 is totally against the scripture and your party is blocking Batswana from praying to God and we need foreign pastors because they play music not like your conservative churches,” he said as he demonstrate how a guitar is played to the laughter of the house.
But what has made the bill a lightning rod to Arone, is that it targets foreign pastors and he postulated that there are institutions that can deal with corrupt pastors not the amendment of the bill. Batshu is a bishop at Spiritual Healing Church and also the church treasure.
Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Philip Makgalemele tried to rise on point of clarification and also received a scathing attack from the Okavango legislator. “Ko teng go nna tona ke boleo malatsi a, you’re something else nowadays.You used to be better while at the backbench (maybe to become a cabinet minister is a curse, nowadays you have turned into something else),” he hit out at Makgalemele sending the whole parliament into a fit of laughter.
Efforts by Malesu to put Arone to order by forcing him to withdraw the statement were futile. He told her “I will come to your house and withdraw,” he said as Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse tried to cool him off to no avail.
Minister of Lands and Housing Prince Maele rising on point of order and informed the house that Arone was not fit to debate in parliament and called on the speaker to ask him to go and rest. “I was with him during lunch at our parliamentary restaurant and know why he is in the current state,” he said.
Arone just shrugged off the accusation and continued on his onslaught on the BDP led government accusing it of stealing from Batswana and wanting to accuse foreign pastors for swindling congregants’ money. Probably Arone’s destructive bullet hit on the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale who luckily was not in parliament.“I am surprised that Molale is supporting this bill while God has been on his side by being the first Permanent Secretary to have served under three presidents,” he said as he pointed at Molale’s empty seat.
Taking over, the calm MP for Molepolole North Mohammed Khan said that he does not support the bill as to him this just trying the Gods. “This is going to lead to corruption in churches as some people will just register even those that are not their members just to be able to register a church,” said Khan who confessed that he is not a Christian but a Muslim.
After the bill was passed and when everyone thought the drama has ended, Goodhope MP James Mathokgwane questioned whether the new amendment are not violating some parts of the Botswana constitution.
After consulting the parliament counsel, Mathokgwane withdrew his earlier statement but brought it back again incensing Minister Malesu to stand on point of order.“Mr Speaker we cannot have this parliament being operated like a kindergarten if some MPS did not learn anything from the induction workshop we cannot have MPs playing around with rules of this house,” she said but was ruled out by the speaker.
This did not go down with opposition MPs who wanted Malesu to withdraw her statement but the speaker informed them that he does not see anything wrong with the use of the word kindergarten as he has previously warned MPs of using some words which can be offensive like ‘motho o rongwa boloi’. Mathokgwane rose on point of order and Molatlhegi tried to order him to sit down but he had none of it. “I will rather be thrown out of this house than have my freedom of speech curtailed and cannot allow that woman to insult us and get away with it,” said the angry Mathokganwe pointing at Malesu.
Asked to leave parliament Mathokgwane vehemently refused and the deputy speaker Molatlhegi provoked standing order 16 and asked the sergeant in arms to accompany Mathokgwane out of parliament and he obliged. Leader of the house Mokgweetsi Masisi registered his worry at the debate and said that it was the first time that parliament experienced such high emotions. He appealed to MPs to use the existing structures to register their concerns rather than hackling at each other and called on them to respect the speaker of the national assembly.
The societies amendment bill number of 2014 was passed by parliament and will go to the committee stages.