Homosexuality no longer a crime in Botswana

Staff Writer | Jun 12, 2019
In an important step forward for individual rights, Botswana decriminalised homosexuality this week.

Botswana’s High Court overturned a law dating from colonial times which criminalised consensual same-sex relationships and allowing for imprisonment of up to seven years for ‘carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature’.

The law had been challenged by University of Botswana student Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who argued that Motswana society had changed, and attitudes to gay people in the country had softened. Late last year, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi came out in support of gay rights, saying that all Motswana, including those who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), ‘deserve to have their rights protected’.

While South Africa’s laws on sexuality are the most liberal in Africa (it remains the only country on the continent which allows same-sex marriage, for example), attitudes are softening in many African states, especially in southern Africa. Mozambique legalised homosexuality in 2015, followed by Angola this year. In Namibia, homosexuality remains technically illegal, but the law is never enforced.

This week’s ruling in Gaborone is an important blow for individual freedoms in Botswana. Although the country has often been seen as a rare example of stable democracy in Africa, the truth is more complicated. The governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power since independence in 1966, and, while the press is generally free, journalists investigating uncomfortable topics have been harassed.

The country’s reputation for stability appeared to take a knock with the resignation from the BDP of Ian Khama, Masisi’s predecessor as president, amid claims that Masisi was becoming authoritarian and that the BDP had abandoned its traditional values. Khama’s father, Sir Seretse Khama, co-founded the BDP in 1962. This week, Masisi conceded that one of the issues that had irked Khama – an amended Presidents (Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Act, which would have limited the former president’s role in Botswana – was ‘a mistake’.

Botswana is likely in for some interesting times ahead, but a blow was struck for liberty in that country this week in the high court’s ruling on the rights of homosexuals.


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