The Personal is Political

Why the Sebina Saga is a reflection of Botswana’s Dirty Laundry.

Tshepo Jamillah Moyo

On Friday morning, over breakfast my mother said “What’s happening on Facebook?” in between packing my bag and drinking my morning coffee I casually answered “I haven’t been online in 24 hours no idea.” I proceeded with my very busy day, which ended in two bottles of wine and some whiskey with three of my favourite people. By the time I got home at around 11PM I had however heard what the big fuss was about despite not having logged on.

A leak of screen shots of private conversations between two politicians had set Botswana on fire. The leak involved a councillor in Sebina, a village in the North East District of Botswana’s confession to impregnating an underage girl while she was intoxicated, but also included an admission to having committed the same offense before and paying for an abortion. The conversation is a dialogue between the two politicians as they attempt to find solutions to the problem, which not only includes bribing the girl’s parents, paying off a newspaper, or even killing her; but also includes the notion that maybe it is not such a big problem because Batswana are forgetful and forgiving people and will have forgotten by election year.  The big leak was then followed by another allegation of rape from the councillor’s niece who posted to a prominent Botswana Tabloid page stating that her uncle was a predator and had not only raped her but another cousin and numerous girls in the village. In the buzz of the leak the media got hold of the girl’s mother who urged them to stay out of her family’s affairs but indeed confirmed she was pregnant.

The politicians however do stick to the story that the conversation was forged and that they were hacked, and for the interest of avoiding law suits and defamation we’ll play at that it was. Let’s just assume that they didn’t say those terrible things about the situation (the situation is real however, a 17 year old girl is pregnant) is there really anything to be mad over? The honourable that has not been charged for statutory rape, the reason being that the girl was over 16 and therefore able to legally consent, no one really thinks drunken girls are ever too drunk to say no or yes or not really to sex, her parents think it’s alright. So what are you so mad about?

Here is what I’m mad about, the Sebina Saga is not the first or the last time a man in power will ever abuse a young girl and get away with it. That’s actually not even because of the laws we have in place. There are a number of acts the police could have used to make an example out of this guy. It’s not because of a lack of laws. The Sebina Saga will happen again because of Botswana’s biggest dirty laundry, the secret every single family has, and the unspoken but known truth that the men in our families are perpetrators of sexual abuse on children. Before I became a Gender Activist full time my biggest fear was that I would be a failure or poor.

My biggest fear now? Is that one day a client will tell me a story of sexual assault and it might trigger a suppressed memory of sexual assault.  Because in my line of work the number of women and even boys who disclose to me that they were raped as children by an uncle, a cousin, a father, a neighbour, a family friend is so alarming that statistically its more likely you don’t remember than that it didn’t happen to you. The number of those who name at least three different incidents or four different perpetrators at different stages in their lives is scary. But this is a secret in our country, one that family members turn a blind eye to and one that our state has also begun to turn a blind eye to. Every single sexual assault survivor who was assaulted as a child has mentioned either being forced to keep quiet about it or knowing they would be forced to keep quiet about it.

The rape culture in Botswana is one of silence, it is also one of victim blaming. The rape culture in my country avoids perpetrators, it does not ask predators who are rich and powerful why they prey on the weak, but asks why the weak aren’t stronger. But when you give them answers, when you say these are teenage girls who are poor and come from terrible family backgrounds they ask why the girls are really poor. Why don’t they find jobs? Or go to school? Why are they busy with older men? Why not just say no to the man promising you a job? The man who knows every business owner in the city? The one who offers your family that is struggling 20,000 pulas as consolidation for taking advantage of you? Why not just walk away?

Tlhalefang Charles wrote an article titled “A Nation that Celebrates Rapists”  for Mmegi Newspaper a few months ago, I’d like to correct him. Botswana is actually a nation of rapists and perpetrators. We are all victims and perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse of children. We are the adults that hush them, we are the adults that create a society they are scared to tell, and we are the nation that protects the men that rape our children. We take the bribes, we never report, we look away, we tell people these are my family’s affairs. We are the police officers that bury the cases, the politicians that pay for illegal abortions, the ones who vote for them, who support their businesses, buy their products. We are the ones that comment that young girls are fast these days. We have failed our children, we have failed ourselves and until we realise that the personal is political there is no change that can happen in our country’s policies and laws.

Until we learn to name and shame rapists and abusers in our own homes, in our own families we cannot expect our government to do it for us. The state cannot suddenly condemn something in public when we accept it in private or deem it a private affair. So this week when you sign the petitions, when you wear all black, when you call for the stepping down of all those involved in the Sebina Saga remember that perpetrator in your family and hopefully you can confront them. Because when it comes to behavioural change the personal will always be the political.