Language Switcher

Kanane v. State, Court of Appeal, Botswana (30 July 2003)

Procedural Posture

Utjiwa Kanane was charged with committing an unnatural offence, contrary to section 164(c) of the Penal Code, and committing indecent practices between males, contrary to section 167. The conduct at issue involved Graham Norrie, a British tourist, and occurred in December 1994. (Norrie pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and left the country.) Kanane pleaded not guilty, alleging that sections 164(c) and 167 both violated the Constitution. The High Court ruled that these sections of the Penal Code did not violate the Constitution. Kanane then appealed to the Court of Appeal.


Whether sexual acts between consenting adult men in private violated the Constitution.

Domestic Law

Penal Code of Botswana, Sections 164 and 167. Because the defendant was charged with these crimes before 1998, the Court looked at both versions of the law to decide whether the post-1998 version was unconstitutional.

Pre-1998 Section 164 (Offence of having carnal knowledge of another “against the order of nature”, and individuals permitting a male to have “carnal knowledge” of him or her “against the order of nature”).

Post-1998 Section 164 (Offence of having carnal knowledge of another “against the order of nature”, and individuals permitting any other person to have “carnal knowledge” of him or her “against the order of nature”).

Pre-1998 Section 167 (Offence of male persons committing public or private acts of “gross indecency with another male person” or procuring “another male person to commit any act of gross indecency” or attempting to do so).

Post-1998 Section 167 (Offence of any person committing public or private acts of “gross indecency with another person” or procuring “another person to commit any act of gross indecency with him or her” or attempting to do so).

Constitution of Botswana, Sections 3 (constitutional protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of every individual in Botswana), and 15 (“no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect”).


Attorney-General v. Dow, Court of Appeal, Botswana, 1992 (holding that the list of protected grounds in Section 15 of the Constitution was illustrative and not exclusive and that discrimination on the basis of gender, although not expressly mentioned in Section 15, would violate Section 3 of the Constitution).

Comparative Law

Banana v. State, Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, 2000 (finding constitutional State sodomy law).

Bowers v. Hardwick, United States Supreme Court, 1986 (upholding State law criminalising sodomy against constitutional challenge).

Lawrence v. Texas, United States Supreme Court, 2003 (affirming that same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults was part of the liberty protected by the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the federal Constitution and striking down Texas’ sodomy law).

National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v. Minister of Justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa, 1998 (finding unconstitutional statutory and common law offences of sodomy).

Reasoning of the Court

First, the Court held that Section 167, prior to amendment, was: “clearly discriminatory on the basis of gender” because it “was aimed entirely at male persons … No such bar to similar activities existed for females.” However, any need to strike down Section 167 ended when it was amended to be gender neutral in 1998.

Counsel for Kanane argued that Section 164 discriminated against gay men both pre-amendment and post-amendment. The Court considered this argument at length, quoting from South African cases, the dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas, and the Wolfenden Committee Report. The Court observed that sodomy had been decriminalised in member States of the Council of Europe, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

The issue, as framed by the Court, was whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be prohibited by the Constitution. According to the Court, the answer lay in part in whether the circumstances in Botswana “demand the decriminalization of homosexual practices”.

The Court noted: “No evidence was put before the court a quo nor before this court that public opinion in Botswana has so changed and developed that society in this country demands such decriminalization”. The Court cited the Zimbabwean case Banana v. State. “As to Gubbay CJ’s views on public opinion I am of the view that while courts can perhaps not be dictated to by public opinion, the courts would be loath to fly in the face of public opinion, especially if expressed through legislation passed by those elected by the public to represent them in the legislature… The public interest must therefore always be a factor in the court’s consideration of legislation particularly where such legislation reflects a public concern.”

The fact that the laws in question had been amended as recently as 1998 indicated that societal attitudes had not changed. “The legislature, in passing the 1998 Amendment Act, clearly considered its provisions and, as with the effect of the rest of the act, broadened them… I conclude therefore that so far from moving towards the liberalisation of sexual conduct by regarding homosexual practices as acceptable conduct, such indications as there are show a hardening of contrary attitude.”

The Court held: “Gay men and women do not represent a group or class which at this stage has been shown to require protection under the Constitution.” Therefore Section 164 survived the constitutional challenge.

Kanane v State, Court of Appeal, Botswana (full text of judgment, PDF)