Sunday, September 20, 2020

For how long do we intend to ignore the San community’s plea for socio-economic equality?

By Victor Baatweng

Any speech, more especially from political leaders must reflect intent, purpose, and a commitment to action.

In so many forums, ever since he took the presidency seat in April 2018 ÔÇô President Mokgweetsi Masisi made speeches and statement that suggest that he would want to lead a Botswana that no one is left behind.

While President Masisi might have said these words for a certain purpose, there is a sizeable number of Batswana who feels there has not been commitment on the side of the now Masisi-led government to improve the well-being of the Baqwee tribesmen commonly known as Basarwa or San people.

This part week we were privileged to once again to be amongst the audience of the Khwedom council ÔÇô an organisation formed a few years ago to represent the interests of Basarwa across the country. Please note that we use the names Basarwa and Bakhwee inter-changeably because in our interaction with the Khwedom council last week, they made it very clear that they would want to be addressed as Bakhwee. The council says the name Basarwa is demeaning and has been imposed on them by Tswana speaking tribes within this country. On the other hand we are forced to address them with the usual name – Basarwa because it is popularly known and officially used by the government. We don’t want a situation where dear reader you get confused and perhaps think you are reading about an unknown tribe in the country. Names aside, our commentary this week seeks to beg the current leadership of this country to give an ear to the Bakhwee tribesmen.

This comes after a reminder by the Khwedom council of the negligence of the Bakhwee communities. This negligence, whether through intent or ignorance has resulted in drastic underfunding of basic services like safe housing, clean water and education amongst the Bakhwee communities. In turn this has stood out as a barrier to their human development.

In our interaction with the leadership of their council ÔÇô Khwedom last week it is quite clear that these people have been marginalised for a very long time. This is why we call for a blue print that entails economic reconciliation. As we write this, the Bakhwee people continue to struggle not just for their cultural survival but also for an acknowledgement of their legal rights to their land. This speaks to wealth creation.

We admit that as a nation we cannot reverse decades of unequal relationships overnight. But we can choose to start the process by giving the Bakhwee an ear. We need to give them audience for the first time and let them draft proposal of what they think needs to be done to help improve their welfare.

We should do this bearing in mind that being isolated way off the modern economic system ÔÇô like most of the Bakhwee communities have been can create substantial challenges for the service provision for those particular populations.

We must identify with one reality, and that is geographic luck that some tribes in this country had in this country. Some individual tribes have been lucky enough to be close to the capital Gaborone while some are close to an attractive tourist destination, and geographic luck created opportunities for them. On the flipside, geographic bad luck had exactly the opposite effect on most of the Bakhwee tribesmen who live mostly in the bush and desert. This is not said to cause any tribal wars or commotions. We are fully aware that tribalism is one of our biggest elephants in the room. Most of our people, led by the government would rather sweep it under the carpet and hope that it never comes out.  The truth of the matter is however that we are at a point where we need national socio-economic reconciliation.

While fixing the economic disparity between Bakhwee and other tribes of this country won’t be enough on its own to bring about the necessary national reconciliation, it can be a vital part of a sustainable solution. 

What we are proposing here is actually not far off from what the Khwedom leaders suggested this past week in their meet and greet with the members of the press. They want their fellow tribesmen to be given an opportunity to come up with solutions to the problems they are facing. Is that too much to ask for?

While we ponder on this question we should also admit that a history of broken government promises, failed assimilation policies and territorial dispossession, will take time to overcome. This sad legacy is reflected even in representation by respective tribes at key institutions such as Parliament and Ntlo ya Dikgosi. It does not end there. We can go as far as scrutinising the participation of the Bakhwee people in the local economy for the past 53 years. We need to look back and ask ourselves whether the assimilation policies such as RADP that the government tailor made for the Bakhwee communities achieved their goal. If not, what went wrong and most importantly what caused the failure? Is it not the time now to pause and give the Bakhwee tribesmen an opportunity to direct the ship of their lives?

These questions take us back to our opening line. Any speech, more especially from political leaders must reflect intent, purpose, and a commitment to action.

We strongly believe that part of the reason why our nation failed the Bakhwee was because of scripted speeches. A scripted statement which mechanically recited over and over again at various occasions’ means that it risks turning into an empty, formulaic, and performative gesture. This is what happened with the many promises that Botswana leaders made to the indigenous people of this country ÔÇô in this case Bakhwee.  The #Bottomline is that the Bakhwee communities ÔÇô just like any other community in this country must be accorded with resources to drive their own business endeavours and choose their own path toward economic growth, without prejudice. This commentary must not be interpreted as being tribalistic or an attempt to divide the nation.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.