Botswana: Mixed Views on Church Bill

Botswana: Mixed Views on Church Bill

Gaborone, SAPA — Botswana’s Labour and Home Affairs ministry on Thursday tabled the controversial Societies Amendment Bill which calls for an increase in the number of people required to register a church.

MPs of the ruling party and opposition parties expressed mixed views on the bill immediately after minister Edwin Batshu tabled it in parliament.

The bill proposes that the threshold required to register a church be increased from 10 to 250 people. It is aimed at curbing mushrooming churches.

Legislator Biggie Butale, who is also a reverend, said parliament would set a bad precedent if the bill was passed.

The outspoken Butale, of the Botswana Democratic Party, said he foresaw a situation where religious groups would approach courts to challenge the bill if it was passed in its current format.

According to the bill, pastors and marriage officers would be subjected to thorough vetting, a first for the country which has over 15,000 churches.

Duma Boko, president of main opposition party Umbrella for Democratic Change, said the law was “satanic” and discriminated against religious groups.

Ruling party legislator, Ignitious Moswaane, argued that Botswana would “be cursed” if passed into law.

The bill sought to establish an advisory and arbitration council which would verify the credentials of churches, pastors and marriage officers. It would allow the labour minister to interfere in church disputes for the first time in the country.

Health minister Dorcus Makgatho-Malesu supported the bill, saying it would ensure churches were run properly. The current Societies Act, which governs churches, was last amended 20 years ago.

Church leaders argued that the law would enable government to interfere in church affairs.

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