As should have been expected, AfriForum’s first public statement last Wednesday on its dealings with the Botswana government has ignited another furore. The charge being restated is that the government shouldn’t have any dealings at all with a white supremacist organisation that seeks to turn the clock back to the apartheid years when there was official policy to treat black South Africans like used contraceptives.
While racism is odious, the reality is that going back to the administration of President Sir Seretse Khama to date, Botswana has always done business with racist regimes and organisations.
In its early years, Botswana found itself sandwiched between the racist regimes of Rhodesia as well as South Africa and its colony of South West Africa. It was not uncommon then for Batswana to work in Rhodesian farms and mines – some Batswana men worked as contract labourers at Wankie (now Hwange) Colliery. An even greater number of them worked in South African mines under an arrangement that was put together by a racist colonial government to enable the former to pay hut tax. Without racist South Africa, Botswana would not have survived and from 1966 to date, South Africa has always been its major trading partner.
After being lobbied by the Arab League, Sir Seretse broke off diplomatic ties with racist Israel which since its creation to date, has always treated Palestinians like used contraceptives. His successor, Sir Ketumile Masire, would restore those ties even as Israel maintained its racist policies towards Palestinians. Not too long ago, Botswana, which dabbled in rooftop diplomacy during the presidency of Ian Khama, remained mum as Israel deported some 40 000 African immigrants who qualified as refugees in terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention that Israel itself helped formulate. Israelis’ racist disdain for blacks is no secret and in 2014, a basketball team owner in the United States called Donald Sterling, was caught on tape telling his Latino girlfriend to not socialize with blacks. “You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs,” Sterling says on the tape.
Botswana also maintains diplomatic relations with a country that has been racist from its founding to date – the US. More blatant than subtle, such racism has been put on full display by the country’s current president, an unreconstructed white supremacist who has stated that Africa is made up of “s&*thole” countries and forced his predecessor, a black man, to literally show his birth certificate to prove that he was indeed an American citizen. Donald Trump doesn’t want blacks in the US, has asked four US-born, black-origin congresswomen to “go back to where they came from” and increasingly nowadays, more and more Batswana find it extremely difficult to get a visa at the US Embassy in Gaborone and visit the US. Beyond new rules from Washington, white Americans who think like Trump have been deployed to diplomatic missions across the globe.
The Botswana government is fighting an unusual case in which it has not been able to get help from the South African government in the “Butterfly” case. That left it with no option but to hire a highly skilled courtroom practitioner called Advocate Gerrie Nel who has worked as South Africa’s chief prosecutor. Nel is best known for securing prosecutions against Olympic gold medallist, Oscar Pistorius, and former head of police, Jackie Selebi. Not only is he an able lawyer, he also knows how the South African government operates at the highest levels. It is more than likely that he also has sources who can leak him information he needs to perform A-class lawyering in a money laundering case in which African National Congress royalty, in the form of tycoon Bridget Motsepe-Radebe, has been implicated. Motsepe-Radebe, who is a graduate of the University of Botswana, is sister-in-law to President Cyril Ramaphosa and is married to a cabinet minister, Jeff Radebe, and is also both a member and one of the main financiers of the ruling ANC.
While a brilliant lawyer, Nel is also a member and official of AfriForum, which fact doesn’t sit well with some people and organisations in Botswana.
Upon learning that the government had engaged Nel, the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) issued a condemnatory press statement asking the government to reconsider its decision to engage a “racist and white supremacist” AfriForum to assist in processing mutual legal assistance request made to the South African government. From a moral standpoint, LSB had a very valid reason but if it is bothered by the government’s dealings with white supremacy, it has yet to publicly express outrage about that same government doing business with Israel (which developed the National Master Plan for Arable Agriculture and Dairy Development) and the US, which it has allowed to do highly invasive HIV/AIDS research that it could never do in the US. Much of Botswana’s national economy is controlled by white South Africans, some if not most of whom are white supremacists. Some of these white supremacists do lucrative luxury tourism business in the Okavango Delta – which the Director of a London-based pressure group called Survival International, Stephen Corry, has referred to as a “white ethno-state.” The LSB has never once released a statement about the Botswana government doing business with Okavango Delta white supremacists. We stand to be corrected but we also have no recollection of LSB releasing any statement when agents of the Chinese government took a leading role in the eviction of lawful black tenants in China as a COVID-19 containment measure.
Be it western, middle eastern or eastern, all racism is odious and while it has selectively condemned this racism, Botswana has also always been pragmatic in dealing with racist nations, largely because its foreign policy was built on pragmatism. If the government of Sir Seretse had chosen to not do business with racist South Africa, the new state of Botswana would have collapsed within weeks. As one of the worst-affected countries in the world in terms of HIV/AIDS infection and prevalence, Botswana needs US money to run its health programmes. The man who gives final approval for the disbursement of such money is “a low-IQ racist sex pest” (protestor’s placard) who can’t pronounce “Namibia” properly and won’t even identify Botswana on a world map. Granted, AfriForum has an odious agenda but it also has a brilliant lawyer whose help Botswana desperately needs at this point in time.
In the final analysis, President Mokgweetsi Masisi is doing what all his predecessors did – holding his nose and out of a sense of pragmatism, doing business with a racist entity.