Thursday 13 November 2008

Dear Commissioner

Dear Commissioner

[An open letter to the Commissioner of Police.]

We have recently investigated several so-called “traditional doctors” who advertised in a range of local newspapers. I believe that the products and services that they offer are illegal and that the Police Service should step in to prevent the criminal activities committed by these charlatans.

They breach the requirements of the Consumer Protection Regulations by offering “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis” but that is not a matter for the Police. More important is their criminal activities, an area where the Police can intervene.

Firstly these “healers” offer medicines in their advertisements. This is illegal. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana make it an offence punishable by up to a year in prison to publish, in writing or by speech, anything that offers to sell any “medicine, surgical appliance or treatment”.

These sections define a “prohibited advertisement” as “any advertisement of any medicine” that offers treatment for a long list of complaints. These include sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or “any habit associated with sexual indulgence”. The list also forbids advertising anything “for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility”.

We telephoned a number of these “healers”. A “Dr” Timba offered one of our callers a solution to the fictitious virility problems her husband was experiencing for P500. The same “Dr” Timba told another caller that he could improve her CD4 count in return for P600.

A “Dr” Benson, who described himself as a “herbalist” and a “herbacologist”, told our caller that he could resolve her fertility problems for P970. For this sum she would be given “herbs” to drink that would “assist that which has been blocked”. This was before he had even asked if it was she who was infertile or her husband.

A “Dr” Hassan told another caller that he had a cure for tuberculosis. We have a recording of him stating that “Yeah, I can cure TB”. The same “Dr” Hassan, when asked if he could cure AIDS said “Yeah, I can cure”. When she asked him if that meant she was not going to die, he told her “Yeah, I can cure all that diseases that can kill you”.

All of these charlatans are cheating the public by taking their money in return for nothing of value and, worse still, false hope in the face of health problems. However, worse than all of this is the risk that consumers are taking if they fall for this deception and take these false remedies instead of orthodox, proven, scientific medicines. My great fear is that vulnerable people with HIV will stop taking their ARVs and expose themselves to a tremendous risk to their health and, in fact, their lives.

However, the most shocking of these calls didn’t relate to health matters at all. The same “Dr” Timba who could resolve virility problems and improve a caller’s CD4 count also offered services that go way beyond mere prohibited advertisements.

Our caller told Timba a story. She said that she had a pending court case and that she would like the opposite side “to lose and to disappear”. She even wondered whether it was possible for her opponent “to have a horrible car accident”. Although Timba was initially reluctant to discuss the issue on the phone we managed to push him. She asked him “Can you help me achieve that?” he said “Yes” and “That’s not a problem”.

Clearly, Timba is a charlatan and a fraud and we entrapped him. He obviously has no genuine ability to bring about anyone’s death but his conduct seems to verge on being conspiracy to commit murder.

Section 221 of the Penal Code states that “Any person who conspires with any other person to kill any person… is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”. We believe that although Timba clearly did not have the capability to undertake the crime he showed himself willing to conspire to do so.

Of course, we do not believe that he can actually be charged with such a crime. We haven’t produced sufficient, admissible evidence for such a charge. We are not a law-enforcement agency but we are entitled to lodge a complaint and to request further investigations.

I believe that Timba and his kind are a menace to our society and are guilty of publishing prohibited advertisements. I also wonder how each of these people, who are all foreigners. managed to enter Botswana. If they failed to declare themselves as healers then presumably they are operating illegally in that regard as well.

What is also of concern is that these so-called “healers” are almost certainly not registered as practitioners as required by the Botswana Health Professions Act, 2001. I also believe that, by all calling themselves “Doctor”, they are guilty of Cheating, as outlawed by Section 310 of the Penal Code. They may even be guilty of “Spreading infection” (outlawed by Section 184) if they encourage a consumer to stop taking their legitimate medication and replace it with their worthless products.

We believe that action is required. We believe that these charlatans need to be stopped. They threaten our people, our health and our rule of law.

I urge you to investigate these so-called “healers” and to assess for yourself the extent of their criminality.

With best regards

The Consumer Watchdog Team

This week’s stars!

  • Ditiro from The A Team builders for being charming.
  • The team at the No. 1 Ladies Opera House for excellent service

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