From its stock of olfactory idioms, Setswana counsels that “monna o nkgang, o nkga le di tsa gagwe.” Literally, this idiom means that if a man stinks so should his property, and substantively, that you shouldn’t like what belongs to someone you hate. While some would hold their noses at “stink”, the word is the most appropriate for a story that deals with physical closeness – through which the sense of smell is activated.
In the period leading up to and after independence, Seretse Khama (future Sir Seretse) expressed desire to create a cohesive “multi-racial society” that accorded equal rights to all. There can be no doubt that his own personal experience with racism in Bechuanaland as well as in both Britain and South Africa where he schooled influenced this vision. This is nothing you will read in school textbooks but the Bechuanaland that Khama inherited was deeply racist and the culprits were the British – who bear more responsibility for southern Africa’s racism than the Boers.
For decades before 1966, Gaborone Hotel, Grand Hotel and Tati Hotel in Francistown, Chase Me Inn (later Mahalapye Hotel) and all other hospitality establishments in Bechuanaland strictly catered for whites only. This means that Khama would have been denied service at all those hotels. Cumberland Hotel in Lobatse would become the first multi-racial hospitality establishment in Botswana. There was a “Whites Only” door at the Mahalapye post office. As Senior Education Officer with a master’s degree, future Minister of Education, Gaositwe Chiepe, was paid less than a white junior who didn’t have a university degree. Facilities at the Bechuanaland Protectorate headquarters in Mahikeng were segregated and when they relocated to “Gaberones” ahead of independence, Notwane Club was established to welcome all races.
Were he still alive, Sir Seretse would turn 100 years this coming Thursday. There is no way of knowing whether he would still be a member of the Botswana Democratic Party, which he founded, or of the Botswana Patriotic Front, which his first-born son and third president, Ian Khama, founded after leaving the BDP in a huff and puff. However, Khama would certainly be greatly disappointed that the multi-culturalism that he promoted is being actively sabotaged by people who came to Botswana as economic refugees.
By now, Khama would have known what is happening in the Okavango Delta. But for very powerful Delta contacts, he wouldn’t have been welcome in any luxury tourist resort of what, as Survival International has generally stated, is a “whites-only enclave.” Part of the reason that happened is because of the way Delta concession areas are administered. When well-off and worldly blacks rushed to bright city lights, whites went in the opposite direction and established commercial presence on vast tracts of land in the Okavango River. They then spent huge sums of money to build riverside lodges and thereafter, would only make brief visits to bright lights to lobby government officials for favourable policies. One such policy relates to a lease agreement that was obviously crafted with nefarious intent.
The lease agreement between the Tawana Land Board and tour operators contains a right-of-first-refusal clause. Right of refusal is a legal principle in terms of which a seller must give a party an opportunity to match a price at which a third party agrees to buy a specified asset on the same terms offered to the third party. When the lease for a concession area ends, all bidders, including the sitting tenant, compete in an open tender and upon evaluation, the latter is given the opportunity to match the overall highest bidder’s proposal. In the event the sitting tenant has to vacate a site, s/he has to be fully compensated for a site that would have been developed with huge sums of money over an extended period of time. In at least one case where a successful bidder could afford this compensation, the sitting tenant took the matter to the High Court, retaining the services of high-priced South African advocates.
Resultantly, some parts of the Okavango Delta are part of Botswana in name only: the luxury safari lodges are managed by white couples; the official language is English and use of Setswana is forbidden at some; the official currencies are US dollar, euro and British pound; and unless Covid-19 has paralysed international travel, black people are unwelcome except as menial workers. Whatever happened to “monna o nkgang, o nkga le di tsa gagwe?”
Khama would have been as disappointed with Asian-only enclaves that are sprouting in Gaborone mostly as Asia overtakes the west as a global superpower. Two months ago, there was public outrage when Advertiser carried an ad for “Asians only” tenants at a commercial residential complex. It is unusually interesting that while the state tried to confiscate Sunday Standard’s printing press in Pilane under the mistaken impression that it was used to print a story about Khama being involved in a night-time road accident, it hasn’t done the same with the printing press that printed the Asians-only ad. Apparently, the Penal Code can be selectively manipulated to make a mountain out of a mole hill and vice versa.
While publication of the Asians-only ad was a slip-up, it confirmed what has always been an open secret: that one too many Asians are not terribly keen on integrating socially and culturally into a society that they took an oath at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to become part of. Using his real names, a black Motswana Muslim has asserted in a letter to the editor that Asians will only eat at a black wedding if Asian women are part of the group of people preparing food in the kitchen. Asian daughters are reportedly spirited away back to the ancestral home when they appear to be getting a bit too close to black boys for one to almost hear the sound of wedding bells.
There has been no front-page news story yet but one too many people know that Extension 10 in Gaborone is quietly being transformed into a Muslim and Asian-only enclave. Most black homeowners are being enticed away with lucrative offers to buy or swap houses. The hold-outs are still being subjected to continual, almost harassive entreaties to move out. One thing is certain: there will be no blacks in Extension 10 in 20 years – as there will still be none running a Nandos-restaurant franchise. There is another “Asians-only” physical space that predates the Asians-only neighbourhoods – the space around the cash register of an Asian-owned store. Rarely do you see a black person behind the cash register at such stores. Whatever happened to “monna o nkgang, o nkga le di tsa gagwe?”
As the pandemic continues to cripple economies and claim lives, there was a brief super-spreader event at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport as Vice President Tsogwane and the Indian High Commissioner headlined a vaccine-arrival ceremony on the tarmac. A few days later, there were press reports that the vaccine donation from India had disproportionately benefitted Indians at an officially undisclosed vaccination site, a mansion owned by an Indian-origin Botswana citizen. If Khama turned in his grave in reaction to what is happening in the Delta, he was certainly spinning at the speed of a ceiling-fan on high when the plot elements of the latter “coincidence” aligned.
Let’s leave the questions of whether multi-culturalism has ever worked anywhere in modern times for another day and why Africa (and only Africa) has been chosen to be laboratory for its experiment. Instead, let us answer one about why Botswana’s founding president wanted such society in the first place.
Khama was gambling on the chance that a cohesive racial groups can co-exist peacefully because they get to know each other very well and come to appreciate each other’s value as human beings. If you don’t know and have no desire to know a society that you settled in to do practise commerce, you may well think that indigenous people have steel teeth. Resultantly, you may not remove pebbles when packaging sugar beans – as may apparently be happening with one particular company whose bean products are destroying people’s teeth.
Minus such cohesion, the settlers become a national security threat, a ticking time bomb whose detonation is a matter of when and not if. Echoing the professional opinion of security experts and his intelligence chiefs, former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that “the idea of separate development” poses a national security threat. Ironically, when Botswana catches fire, those who are building racially exclusive enclaves (that threaten national security) stand to literally lose the lost because those enclaves would be overrun and taken over overnight by resentful locals.
Regret, vexation, disappointment and anger would probably have seized Botswana’s founding president, leading him to seek refuge in a distinctly Sengwato folk saying through which this culture invokes the intervention of an iconic age-regiment believed to be endowed with sage wisdom. This Thursday, Khama, who was himself a member of the Malekantwa regiment, would have been turning 100. Looking out over Serowe from the elevated part of Palamaokue, he would also have found himself limited to little else besides “Kgang ke eo Masokola.”