Botswana toasts 50 years of freedom

By Bakang Mhaladi

GABORONE-BOTSWANA is setting the stage for its biggest party yet – its 50th Independence celebrations on September 30.

President Ian Khama’s government has set a budget of P100 million (US$10 million) for the festivities to be held at the 23,000-seater National Stadium in Gaborone.

Regional leaders, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – who executed the struggle for independence in the region alongside Botswana’s founding leader Seretse Khama as members of the Frontline States – were expected in Gaborone on Thursday.

Khama declared Thursday a public holiday ahead of the Friday celebrations. Khama also granted amnesty to 500 prisoners who will celebrate the Golden Jubilee with their families.

The Botswana leader warned the released prisoners that they should not re-offend, otherwise their independence will be short-lived.

“If you commit crime, you will be forced to complete your previous sentence, together with the new punishment,” he said in Gaborone on Tuesday.

Prisoners serving time for serious crimes including rape and murder were not pardoned. At a flag hoisting ceremony on Tuesday, Khama said Botswana will celebrate in a unique way. “I’ve not seen any country celebrate its 50th anniversary as we are doing in Botswana. I would like to commend and congratulate the spirit in every one of you,” Khama sai. He said all flags hoisted on street lamp posts, trees and buildings in the lead-up to the celebrations will only be taken down on December 31.

Botswana has been lauded as a success story with a stable economy spurred by the discovery of diamonds shortly after independence from Britain in 1966.

“We are excited, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are looking forward to the next 50 years as we move towards 100 years of Independence,” street vegetable vendor, Mpho Setshego, told The Southern Times in the capital.

The capital Gaborone has been a hive of activity this week, with workers putting final touches at the celebrations venue, the National Stadium.

Every corner the blue, black and white colours of the nation are dominant with the country already in celebratory mood.

The government, has however, reminded its citizens to enjoy responsibly, particularly urging liquor traders to adhere to the strict trading hours.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry warned traders to comply or risk the penalties.

“All liquor business operators are advised to observe and comply with the provisions of the Liquor Act and its regulations,” the ministry’s permanent secretary, Peggy Serame, warned. Liquor stores will be closed during the two-day holiday with only licenced bars allowed to operate but for limited hours between 3PM and 10PM.