Future Bangwato kgosikgolo is no fan of Black Lives Matter

20 Aug 2018

With Ian Khama, having near announced that he is abdicating the Bangwato bogosi in favour of his younger brother, Tshekedi, someone who has all along been a private citizen no longer is.

“The next in line for now is Tshekedi, my brother,” the 64-year old Kgosi Khama IV (his regnal name) told Mmegi in a statement that appears a deliberate attempt to mentally prepare his subjects for what seems inevitable. “Until I get married and have my own children, he is the next in line.”

The male primogeniture of Tswana traditional leadership necessarily means that Tshekedi, who has two children, will be succeeded by his son, Kaedi Sekgoma Khama. In these, his formative years, the likely Kgosi Khama VI is not afraid to share his views using the go-to social media platforms favoured by his generation. Under the leadership of his uncle, former President Khama, a controversial hunting ban was imposed and enforced by his own father, Tshekedi, as the minister responsible for wildlife. The ban and divided commentators into the “for” and “against” camps and the latter included a conservation expert who argued that there was no empirical evidence to justify the ban. One “against” argument that has been put forth is that large herds of elephants have become uncontrollable and are destroying crop fields in the northern part of the country.

For all the reasons that one can imagine, Kaedi found himself in the “for” camp and at one point put forth a classic Marie-Antoinette argument. While he substituted perimetre walls for cake, his comment takes the cake nonetheless: “It’s simple if you have a farm that you can’t protect or can’t afford to protect, then don’t have a farm. In other words if you can’t build a wall around your property to stop the elephant from entering your farm, then don’t have a farm at all.” It is hard to form that mental picture but if you can, imagine whole farming hamlets in Bobirwa, Ngamiland and Chobe districts that look like Phakalane in terms of perimetre security.

Kaedi also seems to take some interest in international politics but some Bangwato would be deeply troubled by his apparent endorsement of Trumpian politics. On November 23, 2016, he shared a video from Subject Politics featuring a United States media personality called Ben Shapiro. The video is titled “Ben Shapiro Destroys Black Lives Matter with Simple Logic.” While he presents himself as a conservative, Shapiro is in fact a white racist who was editor-at-large at Breitbart News, a racist website that once had a section for “black crime” and until 2015, was headed by Steve Bannon, a political operator who played a key role in making Donald Trump US president. A video on Shapiro’s website has depicted Native Americans as cannibals and savages who weren’t tamed until white Europeans came to America - an affront he would describe as “satire” before public outrage forced him to apologise. Shapiro, who has called white privilege a “myth”, mostly relies on dubious scholarship from conservative think tanks to back up the racist arguments he makes.

Itself operating from the US, Subject Politics is an extreme right wing news and opinion website which describes its mission as being “to disrupt the liberal media echo-chamber of victimisation, moral relativism, and political correctness that suppresses honest conversation and debate.” The website has never found a single positive thing to say about former US President Barack Obama and has also never found a single negative thing to say about Trump. On the other hand, Black Lives Matter is a growing international activist movement founded by black Americans that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people. As its predecessor movements (like the African-American civil rights movement of 1896–1954 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which was founded in 1909), BLM is meeting very fierce resistance from white supremacists who want to preserve a racial order that puts them above black people.

Part of BLM’s platform includes campaigns against racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality which black people all over the world are subjected to. In the particular case of Botswana, one can cite an egregiously racialised system of policing that the new republic inherited from its British colonial masters to illustrate all three problems. The result is that the only people that the Botswana Police Service officers stop, question and search are blacks (notably Zimbabweans), it is only black people that have ever credibly alleged being tortured in police cells, only black people die in police custody, riots are broken up by using live ammunition and the Service still uses an instrument of torture (sjamboks) that apartheid South Africa outlawed in 1991. That the police in independent Botswana are black is a non-issue because the country inherited a racist system of policing that guides the actions of those black police officers. This is just one of the contexts that BLM very relevant for Botswana. For that reason, no one can make any credible arguments against what BLM stands for – and with “simple” logic.

The Subject Politics video shows highlights of a debate hosted by a US radio station that Shapiro participated in alongside three other panelists. One of the panelists is a Zimbabwean man called Charles Mudede whose parents worked in Botswana at the turn of the century. The Subject Politics’ video is only four minutes and 41 seconds long and save for very few seconds when Mudede (who himself didn’t do a good job of representing) jumps in, features Shapiro disparaging black people. He asks “why blacks kids aren’t graduating high school”; “why black kids are shooting each other in rates significantly higher than whites are shooting each other”; why, as only 13 percent of the population, blacks are responsible for 50 percent of the national murder rate in the US; why the number of blacks in prison - and “not for innocent reasons”, is so high; and why single motherhood among blacks has jumped from 20 percent to 70 percent. At another point, he points out that income inequality has nothing to do with race and culture.

For what it is worth, Kaedi provides link to the full (1 hour, 42 minutes and 33 seconds) debate where there is more of Shapiro saying really outrageous thinks about black people. At one point he quotes a dubious study that says that “blacks are more racist than whites” to what appears to be a friendly audience that earlier whooped in delight when he walked onstage.

What Shapiro says is intellectual drivel that, elsewhere, competent African-American scholarship has blown to smithereens. He would have a point about what he evidently sees as black pathology if successive US governments treated blacks the same way it treats whites but that is far from being the case. For some reason though, this pseudo-intellectualism - which is really designed to mask virulent racism, impressed a future Bangwato kgosikgolo well enough that he imported it from a white supremacist website to help promote it. This action alone raises a lot of uneasy questions.