Tag Archives: violence against women

Passion Killings: A Festering Sore on the Conscience of the Nation by Dr. M. Dikobe

6 Aug

I had this article passed to me. It is an article by a gender activist in Botswana on “passion killings”. It also references the practice of lobola (bride price). To read more on this issue in Botswana, read my blog about it

A number of reasons have been put forward in explaining high incidences of passion killings in Botswana, the most obvious one being the unequal power dynamics in relationships between men and women; woman are often perceived as minors who need to be disciplined from time to time. Another is entrenched cultural practices and patterns of socialisation. Further, to a certain extent, some Tswana folksongs can help us understand the way in which passion killings are regarded – as well as the responses to these murders. Many people use their culture, traditions or religion as a way to control women. In Setswana culture, as is similar in many countries in southern Africa, when one gets married the man pays lobola (bride price), mainly in the form of cattle and money, to the woman’s family.

The concept of having ‘purchased a wife’ has been cited as a reason for the belief by some men that they have the licence to beat their wives. These beliefs are further reinforced by the lyrics of some wedding songs, such as the one which includes the words, “mosadi wame ke mo rekile ka dikgomo”, loosely translated as, “my wife I have bought her with cattle”. The causes of passion killings are manifold and a lot of research on this issue is needed to better understand both the cultural and socio-political implications of its causes. Among them, increasing poverty levels and youth unemployment have been cited as contributing factors to the proliferation of inter generational dating as young girls trade sexual favours for a luxurious life. Socialisation too, plays a major factor. Men are socialised to be providers and women, the ones provided for. This creates dependency where women expect financial support and gifts from men, and the provider in turn expects loyalty and love once he has ‘bought’ the girl. Once the relationship goes sour, and the girl tries to leave, the man who feels that he has been taken advantage of does not take no for an answer, sometimes leading to violence, and at times, murder.


The Government of Botswana and other stakeholders have embarked on initiatives aimed at curbing violence against girls and women. Botswana is signatory to agreements to protect women’s rights, among them the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the SADC Declaration on Gender, and the Sexual Offence Bill among others. Despite increases in equality at legislative level, gender-based violence remains problematic in Botswana. To date there is no formalized mechanism to monitor and evaluate gender based violence. Some community mobilising and awareness- raising remains crucial.

There is still only one shelter for victims of gender and domestic violence and rape which is in Gaborone, the capital, with another centre – Women Against Rape (WAR) – in Maun in the north-east. There is a call to increase the number of such centres across the country and to make them accessible to women and girls. There is also a need to mobilise public opinion against the broader injustices of femicide. Everyone should say “NO” to violence against women.

The state has to ratify and enforce existing laws and ensure that there is zero tolerance towards violence against girls and women. The Government of Botswana is also currently looking at setting up national consultative workshops where the whole country can be sensitised about the issues of women’s vulnerability to abuse. Dialogue among various stakeholders, including NGOs, Civil Society and traditional and religious leaders, to find solutions and interventions to mitigate the impact of violence against women in the country is also encouraged. In particular, there is need for stiffer sentences for perpetrators so that they do not walk the streets scot free and prey on other young women.

Passion killings: “a festering sore on the conscience of the nation”

Crimes of “passion” are common worldwide, but several incidents of passion killings – where a number of young girls were killed by their lovers around Botswana in a short space of time – have attracted international media attention. Although men and boys are sometimes victims of passion killings, women and girls in Botswana are the ones who mainly suffer the consequences of this type of gender-based violence. The former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae noted at the National Conference on Crimes of Passion Among the Youth in Botswana in 2008 that “these crimes are new to Botswana and are not part of our culture as a peaceful and compassionate nation”. He noted further that, “crimes of passion are a festering sore on the conscience of our nation… they are eating into the fabric of the society”. The former President’s comments are close to the concerns of youth and adults alike in Botswana, who express the urgency of curbing ‘femicide’ – or passion killings as they are commonly referred to – before they get further out of control.

Dr. Maude Dikobe is a gender activist and Lecture of Literature and the Expressive Arts of the African Diaspora at the University of Botswana. She is a Fulbright scholar and holds a Phd. in African Diaspora Studies from UC Berkeley, United States.