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By Mosidi Mokaeya
AMaun based tourist operator Kenson Kgaga of Botswana Guides Association has spoken out about racism in the Okavango Delta.
He said the issue is now becoming a human rights disaster with racism as the root cause.
“The tour guides are unable to access health care services. Many HIV positive tour guides die unable to access ARVs as their bosses do not allow them leave. If working conditions of tour guides here do not change, we will lose more lives,” said a concerned Kgaga.
He added, “For some reason, the Department of Labour is unable to come to the Okavango Delta and hear our grievances. They always say they are logistically challenged.”
Kgaga is worried about the continuing discrimination against HIV positive employees and HIV positive people aspiring to work in the Okavango Delta camps, lodges, hotels and so on.
“Once a boss finds out that an employee is HIV positive, they get shown the door. If you are out there and wishing to apply for a job in the Safari camps in the Delta, your positive HIV status will work against you. This attitude by our white bosses continues unchecked by the Department of Labour, white employers are having a field day at the expense of the tour guides, said a concerned Kgaga. Last month this publication interviewed Okavango Research Institute’s Professor Joseph Mbaiwa about his research findings on the overall poor working conditions of junior staff in the Delta. His research focused not only on tour guides but on every employee in Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA). He reported that Okavango Delta was hardest hit by racism and unfair labour practices. “Junior staff consists mostly people from communities in and around KAZA,” stated the report.
The racism according to media reports even extends to black customers. Kgaga on the other hand said Department of Labour tells the same employees that Okavango Delta is too far for them to reach regardless of what the labour issue is.
“They do not consider lack of access to health care including no access to ARVs an emergency,” lamented Kgaga. Kgaga said as native tour guides their chances at promotion are extremely thin. “The senior tour guide positions are reserved for white tour guides. This has nothing to do with their qualifications or industry experience, what earns them the jobs is their skin colour,” stated Kgaga. He added that salaries for black and white employees are never calculated on the same scale.
“White employees are always started on better salaries than black employees, this excludes the additional expatriate allowances they enjoy. White employees are also always given better staff accommodation than their black counterparts,” he pointed out.
Tour guides are expected to work 3 months in the camps before they are allowed to go home, in that time they are completely cut off all communication with their loved ones. “In the three months that tour guides are on duty, they are completely cut off communication with the outside world.
The bosses make sure we are unable to communicate with the outside world by cutting us off the network. We get no cell phone network and we are not allowed to use the internet to get in touch with our families in the three months,” he said. “Even if tour guides fall sick, their families never get to know because we are completely cut off all communication lines,” he continued.
Kgaga believes no one can tell the Okavango story better than the native tour guides but he is unsettled by the continuing empowerment of expatriates while locals are left unskilled.
“Locals are never capacitated and elevated to senior positions. Instead expatriates are armed with work permits so that they continue to pour into the delta and make us their subjects,” he lamented.