June 11, 2019, marked a historic turn of events for Batswana in the LGBTQI+ community. A day the High Court removed section 164 of Botswana’s penal code which criminalized same-sex relations. Section a, outlawed “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature”. The court proceedings were ignited by a person who was only known as LM (Letsweletse Motshidiemang ) until the courts had reviewed submissions to the court. LEGABIBO, an LGBTQI+ rights NGO which was a friend of the court, to advise on matters concerning the community in Botswana.
Justice Michael Leburu led the 3 judge bench which unanimously decided to strike down the laws. Their contention is that they hampered Motshidiemangs constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Justice Leburu went on to explain “The State cannot be sheriff or regulator in of what goes on in people’s bedrooms”. Leburu further states that “Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized”.
Leburu’s judgement was met with joy and impassioned embraces. From the LGBTQI+ community and Allies to the community in Botswana. The historical judgement was also widely discussed on social media and traditional media alike. Most people appreciating the need to restore dignity to a community that has been marginalized by archaic laws made during colonial Botswana.
Some leaders have publicly supported the move to decriminalize same-sex relations, including the president of Botswana Mokgweetsi EK Masisi who thinks “Just like other citizens, they deserved to have their rights protected” and Reverend Thabo Mampane who vehemently believes that “the church should be the voice of the voiceless”.
On the other hand, several people did not accept the judgement siting their religious beliefs. Botswana has 75-90% of people who follow various Christian denominations. Botswana Network of Christian Organisations weighed in on the matter as well claiming that the ruling contravenes the teachings of the bible.
On the 22 June LEGABIBO announced they’replan to organise a community outreach to win the hearts and minds of Batswana. The outreach program will educate the greater community on various issues that are of importance to the LGBTQI+ community. LEGABIBO has already started publicly offering various contraceptives for the community something which would have been contentious before the law was struck down.
Without a doubt, the decision by the High Court of Botswana to decriminalize same-sex relations has reverberated across the social fabric of Botswana. Ushering in a new hope for LGBTQI+ communities across the continent. Especially after Mozambique, Angola and now Botswana embrace the LGBTQI+ African. Offering them better access to health and legal services something that had always been out of reach.