On Friday 26th June 2009, the Lobatse High Court ordered one Sadi Nokane, to pay Obakeng Madubela , who was represented by BONELA Legal Officer Mr. Uyapo Ndadi (now Acting Director) to pay P7 000.00 as damages for publication of otherwise confidential information about Madubela HIV status. The causes of action arose on two separate occasions, the first which took place on the 25 December 2006, and the other in June 2007.
On both occasions, the insults which were uttered basically revealed Madubela’s HIV status and were done within earshot of several people whom the Madubela had grown up with. Some of the words were, “Dumela Meleko, ke botsa gore o tlhala leng ngwana wa batho pele o mo tsenya mogare” and “o mosadi yo o paletsweng ke lenyalo ka lebaka la mogare. Ke sa le ke go boditse gore bokete ja mogare wa gago bo tsamaya fo kae”. Madubela (Plaintiff) told the court that the words had hurt her deeply and lowered her self-esteem and claimed P50 000.000 in damages.
In the first case of its kind before the Botswana High Court, Justice David Newman held that that the publication of the otherwise confidential information about the Plaintiff was done with the intention to cause distress and actually did so. This was in the light of the Plaintiff’s testimony that the utterances affected her personal relations, her catering business as well as her political career. Justice Newman pointed out that the Botswana courts ‘have long recognized that an action is available against any person who has committed an intentional wrong causing injury to someone’s dignity.’
Uyapo Ndadi opines that “the case will not only act as a deterrence to people who maliciously disclose other people’s HIV & AIDS status but will also go a long way in showing those that have been wronged of the availability of redress before the Botswana Courts. Batswana hitherto will know that all human beings, irrespective of their health status, have the intrinsic value of dignity and privacy which ought to be protected and respected.”
The court however pointed out that the Botswana’s Constitution, as contrasted to the South African Constitution, does not extend to the unlawful disclosure of a person’s private information. Whilst we celebrate the advent of this groundbreaking decision, it is BONELA’s opinion that the decision of the learned judge, as regards the right to privacy and disclosure of someone’s private information, is but an indication of the inadequacy our Constitution. We therefore call on the government to consider undertaking serious legislative and constitutional reforms that will see, among other things, full protection of the right of persons living with HIV & AIDS.