Executive Director for the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Uyapo Ndadi last week Friday met up with Voice Editor, Emang Bokhutlo at Mugg and Bean restaurant for a chat about the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges his organisation faces in articulating for the rights of the minorities.
A blogger, Lawyer , Gay rights activist and of course an outstanding voice for the voiceless in general through the organisation’s advocacy and lobbying activities, Ndadi had a lot to say on the issues of homosexuality, HIV/ AIDS, prostitution and the state of affairs at the donor funded NGO.
Q. Hi, How is BONELA doing?
BONELA is fully functional.
It continues to operate with many struggles of course the most traumatic being the Public Health Bill which takes us back to an era that existed 30 years ago, the era of discrimination and the infringement of people’s right privacy.
Q. How so?
Through this Bill government seeks to bring in interventions that are regressive such as forcing people to test for HIV by making it compulsory for doctors to require patients to take an HIV test before any treatment.
You could be at the doctor’s for a toothache and he would be required to test you for HIV before extracting your tooth.
Q. What if a patient simply refuses to comply to an HIV test?
What the bill seeks to do is to allow the doctor to get a court order to test you and jail you if you insist on refusing to undergo the test.
But what is even more unfortunate is that government, through this bill wants to legalize the wrong they are doing because doctors are testing for HIV without consent already.
Q. And then what after testing?
If you are HIV positive you would be expected and required by law to inform your partner of your status.
The bill seeks to shift the emphasis on the fight against HIV/ AIDS from the current take care of yourself after voluntary testing strategy to “inform your spouse.” If you refuse to tell your partner you would be liable to a 28-day renewable detention.
That is where women abuse would come because women tend to test before their spouses do.
Many would be accused of having infected their partners simply because they tested first and could even end up being killed.
This bill will only serve to deter people from seeking medical help for fear of being tested against their will and being forced to divulge their status.
Q. Don’t you think the bill signifies government recognising that these are desperate times in need of desperate measures?
What government should be doing instead of coming up with an ill thought out bill which could prove difficult to enforce is to show leadership by encouraging politicians ministers, MPS, pastors, judges, and professionals such as lawyers and nurses in general to test.
These people must then speak about their HIV status after testing to normalise the whole HIV/ AIDS issue. We are tired of hearing the Ngeles of this world.
With HIV/ AIDS statistics indicating that 25 % of our adult population and 40% of pregnant women tested are infected it would definitely mean that we have HIV positive MPS so let them speak about it and normalise it.
Q. How far with your lobbying for prisoners to be given condoms?
Prisoners have a right to be given everything that other citizens get so yes we are still actively lobbying for that.
Government says they don’t want to be seen to be encouraging sex in prison but I have always argued that condoms are not like viagra.
They are not used for sexual arousal but they are for protective purposes against diseases for someone who is going to have sex already.
I for one if I was a prisoner and I was to be raped I would prefer for the rapist to at least use a condom It is not a secret that prisoners do have both consensual and non consensual sex.
Q. Recently President Khama banned cigarettes in prison, your take on that one?
I agree with the president on that one because cigarettes in prison are used as a means of trade, like money.
They are even used to buy sex and they expose non smokers to passive smoking.
The wisdom behind the decision is right, the only thing I am concerned about is the procedure.
Are those who go in as smokers already given the necessary support to quit because it can be torture to expect them to quit on their own.
Q. You have been fighting with government to let Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) register their organisation, Are you winning?
No, they are not registered yet but they are still my ‘babies’. We have given government statuary notice to say we taking them to court for denying them the right to register.
In the meantime we have given them office space at BONELA not to talk about sex as is the misconception out there but to deal with issues that affect them and to champion their course.
They are deprived of their right to sex change, their right to marry and their right to form partnerships in general.
Government has a law that stipulates that no one should be fired from work because of their sexual orientation, which means government wants taxes from homosexuals and yet they deny them a right to social space.
That ought to change.
Q. What happened to a BONELA advert that was turned away at BTV for allegedly promoting unconstitutional acts a while ago?
That advert is not promoting unconstitutional acts, Instead it promotes universal access to HIV/AIDS interventions but we hear the office of the president didn’t approve of it because it had two homosexual men standing as a couple.
Homosexuals are part of our lives, we can not wish them away.
We have put the advert on the BONELA face book page but we shall also flight it on SABC which airs widely in Botswana.
Q. But please do tell, is it true that BONELA might close down because of drying out of donor funding?
We are not closing down. That’s not going to happen.
Our budget has reduced in the advent of some of our donors facing financial challenges of their own while others think Botswana is a rich country which doesn’t need donations anymore when we know Batswana are poor.
Q. Why should prostitution be legalised?
Let’s accept that commercial sex work is the oldest trade in the world and regulate it. Sex workers suffer abuse and get no recourse because the industry is not regulated.
Lets accept that they have many clients from various walks of life and many sex workers are people with full time professional jobs who sell sex on the side and not just those who stand on street corners.
If they get exposed to HIV AIDS they can’t even get Post Exposure Prophylasis, which is treatment you get to stop HIV infection if its administered within 3 days of exposure to the virus.
In we need to sensitive people to get that treatment in case of exposure because many don’t know about it.
Q. Any other comment?
Contrary to perceptions BONELA’ s relationship with government is not as hostile as it appears to be.
We do what is best for Batswana, not government but if government was to do something good we are the first to commend them but if they have lost the plot we are not shy to condemn.
On that note I would like to mention that although the Public Health bill is bad it has two good things to come out of it. 1.Job applicants won’t to be tested for HIV anymore and the setting of the age of consent to HIV testing at 16.
My very last remarks however would be to encourage Batswana to treat everyone else as HIV positive and stop making assumptions. If we could do that we would reduce the rate of infections drastically.