Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Blacks not whites dominate tourism industry ÔÇô Khama

President Ian Khama says that contrary to the belief that tourism is dominated by whites, the reality is that at a participation rate of 65 percent, Batswana (which in this context would mean blacks) are actually the dominant group.

The president said this to buttress the argument he was making about his government economically empowering citizens.

“Sixty-five percent of tourism operations are owned by Batswana. People will tell you that they are dominated by whites but that is not true. I know they call me Lekgoanyana,” he said causing rapturous cheer and laughter from the crowd. “Yes, I am light-skinned.”

The precise Setswana was: “Sixty-five percent ya dikgwebo tsa bojanala ke tsa Batswana. Batho ba ta a le bolelela gore ke tsa makgoa. Ga se boammaaruri. Le ha ba mpitsa “Lekgoanyana”; ee ke tshetha.” Lekgoanyana is a good-natured diminutive of “white person” and Tshetha means a light-skinned person.

What the president said was, in one respect, in stark contrast to what was asserted by Maun West parliamentary candidates during Gabz FM debates that preceded this past election. The Okavango Delta is the flagship of Botswana’s luxury tourism and has become the playground of the world’s rich and famous who bring in millions of pula into the country each year.

During the debate, George Lubinda of the Botswana Congress Party said that whites control between 85 and 90 percent of the Delta tourism while Batswana only work as tourist guides and cleaners at hospitality establishments for very paltry pay.

Tawana Moremi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change said that in the future, Batswana may no longer even qualify to work as tour guides because entry requirements for such positions have been rigged in favour of whites. His understanding of the matter is that the Botswana Qualifications Authority has commissioned some whites with a background in the tourist industry to develop entry requirements for guides. One requirement, Tawana said, is that the guides must master certain (purportedly western, non-indigenous) swimming techniques which will result in Batswana not qualifying to work as guides. He added that the Delta tourism has a lucrative local value chain which is nepotistically and overwhelmingly dominated by whites.

According to Lubinda, the Delta’s lodges are perpetually managed by whites who are assisted by blacks who are never deemed good enough for promotion.

“When the contract of a white manager ends, he is not replaced with the black assistant. Another white person – who is completely clueless about tourism management, is brought in and trained by the black assistant manager,” the BCP leader said.

Tawana contests the validity of the 65 percent ownership claim, asserting that Khama is holding out a false construct that doesn’t factor in the most crucial aspect of what the tourism business entails. His contention is that the figure includes “someone who owns a one-room guest house or a taxi cab that transport tourists from the airport to the main mall. These people are not at the core of the hospitality industry.” He adds that whites are the ones who have a larger stake in the tourism business. Tawana’s analysis is that in its original conception, Botswana’s model of high-end low-volume tourism, which came into being during the colonial era, was not meant to accommodate black people either as consumers or tour operators.

They are those who would argue against that point, pointing out that there are black people who own luxury tourism operations in the Delta as well as everyday black people who own shares in tourism operations that are listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange.   

There are also those who would point out that on the whole, black Batswana are not sufficiently empowered because they were systematically kept out the country’s commercial system going to the colonial days. In a Bechuanaland Protectorate readying itself for independence more than a half a century ago, the Bechuanaland Legislative Council appointed a select committee to investigate racial discrimination in the Protectorate. This was the first and so far only instance that an exercise of this nature was undertaken in the country.

Future president Seretse Khama, who was a member of the committee, could not contain his revulsion when the Registrar of Deeds, a Mr. Myers, testified about how Tati Company and the British South Africa Company (BSAC) had imposed discriminatory conditions in title deeds.

“A typical example of these conditions is as follows,” Myers said before quoting from a copy of a title deed he had with him: “The land is sold subject to the conditions that the registered owner undertakes not to transfer the land or any part thereof to Asiatics or other Non-Europeans without the previous consent in writing of the company.”

He proceeded to tell the committee that although what he had read out was the typical condition found, there were many variations in wording in different title deeds relating to lands which are owned by or have been owned by Tati or BSAC but that import was basically the same.
“I have not come across a deed yet in which there has not been a provision of this nature,” Myers said.

Khama asked him if it was correct that a clause of this nature could not be easily removed from the title deed. In response, Myers said that once a condition is inserted into a title deed and the land held by such title is subsequently transferred, that condition automatically goes forward into the new title deed and only the person who imposed the condition is able to cancel it.

“Does not the government consider such a condition to be obnoxious?” Khama asked rhetorically.

More than a century ago, present-day Shoshong was a halfway house that serviced the Cape-to-Rhodesia wagon-transit trade and Bangwato leader, Kgosi Khama (President Khama’s great grandfather) did not allow anyone travelling from south to north to bypass it. In 1878, it had nine stores, exported 75 tonnes of ivory culled from 12┬á000 elephants and the following year, its total export of ivory was ┬ú30┬á000. The Bangwato kgosi, who was himself a commercial tobacco farmer, was so important a figure in international commerce that during his 1895 trip to London, most major chambers of commerce feted him. In 1910 when the capital had moved to Serowe, he formed Khama and Co. which he would use to subsidise both black- and white-owned businesses in his territory. In an essay that forms part of “The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa”, former University of Botswana lecturer, Professor Neil Parsons states that despite Khama’s generosity, the latter identified with “white supremacy elsewhere.” Nowhere was “elsewhere” more pronounced than in South Africa which was the epicentre of the Southern African regional economic system.

UB’s Professor Monageng Mogalakwe notes that six years after the British assumed political sovereignty over Batswana, they carved up and designated fertile parts of the country such as Tuli Block, Molopo Farms as well as some parts of Gaborone and Lobatse as “crown lands” and given to white settlers.

“In the north, vast tracts of land were given to a company called Tati Concessions Ltd. To this day, our government continues to use vast amounts of money to buy land in the north east for resettlement or for expansion of Francistown. There is evidence to support the claim that the British colonial state officials did all they could to bolster the white settlers’ economic activities and prevent the emergence of an indigenous national capitalist class and even the middle class,” he says.


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