Friday, September 07, 2007

A change of career? - Botswana Guardian

I think I’m going to train to be a lawyer. I know 43 might be a little old for a career change but I’ve spent some time recently reading our laws. Some of them like the Collective Investment Undertakings Act are incredibly dull but many of them are fascinating.

One of my favourites is the Penal Code. Discrimination is illegal. Anyone who treats another “less favourably” on the grounds of colour, race, nationality or creed can be fined up to P500 or go to prison for up to 6 months. It’s illegal to deliberately wound anybody’s religious feelings. It’s obviously not illegal to say you don’t believe something someone else believes or even to point out flaws in their belief systems but going out of your way to offend them is punishable by up to a year in jail. So don’t do it OK?

Then there’s witchcraft. Not acceptable. The Witchcraft Act makes it illegal to tell fortunes or to find stolen or lost things using any claim to supernatural power. The thing I like best about the Act is that it refers to “so-called witchcraft”. The authors of the law knew it was all unbelievable hocus-pocus and, quite rightly, outlawed it.

However, every so often the laws take a small step sideways and have, in my slightly humble opinion, erred. For instance the Botswana Health Professions Act, 2001 demands that any health professionals must be registered. All very sensible so far. Doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other recognised professionals like opticians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists all have to prove their legitimacy before they can practice. However the Act then mentions what are called “Associated Health Professionals”. This includes chiropodists who are a logical bunch but then goes on to include homeopaths and acupuncturists. This is a mistake. Those last two professions are based on pseudoscience. There is no real, scientific, rational evidence for either homeopathy or acupuncture. They are both based on rubbish. No clinical trials into their effectiveness have ever shown any real effect. I think it’s an insult to chiropodists to lump them in with charlatans.

Back to the Penal Code. The wonderful clause 92 makes it an offence punishable by a fine of up to P500 to say or write anything that expresses hatred, ridicule or contempt for any person or group based on their “race, tribe, place of origin, colour or creed”. It’s simply illegal to make sweeping, offensive generalisations about people because they’re black or white, born here or elsewhere. We are all given the same protection from being insulted.

Of course none of us have any protection against logical argument and reasoned criticism. None of us deserve any such protection. All of us, every day, are open to criticism of our beliefs, our values and our allegiances. That’s the way of a democracy and we are all VERY fortunate to live in a genuine democracy. Millions of people around the world are dying to have the rights of free speech and the protections we have. The people of Burma, led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, are struggling to have just a fraction of what we have.

So I’m just very happy to be in a country where free speech is not only respected, it is also protected and encouraged. If anyone thinks I’m talking nonsense I would be delighted to see reasoned arguments saying why. If, however, all people can come up with is that I’m wrong because I’m white then not only are your arguments silly, they may even be illegal!