The issue of racism, verbal abuse and discrimination in the tourism industry has been a debate for a long time and it would appear it is not going away anytime soon.
Sentiments expressed at the recent launch of the Bridge Town project in Kasane last week tended to feed into this debate.
It seems there are a number of dimensions to the issue. One angle hinges on the fact that tourism is a race controlled sector, therefore many a time people who complain are locals employed in the industry, against ill treatment from their white employers.
Again, it will be patrons who complain about racism in some of places of relaxation deep in the bush and some areas where these operations are based.
Sometimes, it will be in the communities around the Chobe or The Kalahari areas where the tour operators run their businesses.
More interestingly, Member of Parliament for Chobe, Gibson Nshimwe made startling revelation that discrimination and abuse of workers are unimaginably rampant in his area. This should be cause for concern concern.
However, government through the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism Kitso Mokaila says the accusation cannot be qualified because there is no one who has come forward to put their claims fourth.
The MP of the area, where lots of tourism enterprises are based, insists he regularly receives complaints of abuse and racial discrimination from employees.
In addition, he contended that he personally experienced the same ill- treatment during the 2009 election campaign.
Notwithstanding these concerns, it is common knowledge the present labour laws offer no special protection for employees in tourism industry despite the peculiarity of their geographic situation.
“Enough is enough. This issue has to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Some employees are discriminated against and even called kaffirs by their white employers” said Nshimwe said at the ground breaking ceremony of Bridge Town project in resort town of Kasane.
The accusations as put forward by the area MP and assurances from the minister are two interesting points.
The issues raised by the MP come at a time when Botswana government wants a broader participation of citizens on the sector.
The importance of the industry to Botswana cannot be over emphasized. Currently, tourism is the No 2 most contributor to the GDP after the mining industry.
The sector employs a number of Batswana especially around the areas where operators are concentrated.
It would be wise to investigate issues of racism and ill treatment by employees as suggested by the MP.
We are told the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs has in the past carried some investigation and came up with nothing.
Government should launch a fresh fact finding probe in to sector to ascertain whether there is any element of discrimination. There might be some stones that the ministry left unturned in previous efforts.
It will only be through such undertaking that the truth will come out that will put certainty to the future of the industry.
It is difficult to whole heartedly agree with one of the two public figures. If we agree with either the minister or the MP, it is difficult because we do not have the facts on our hands.
We might be sitting on a problem that might snowball out of control and paint a negative image of the country abroad.
We might also go by Nshimwe’s assumptions when in actual fact it is just a pocket of operators who are ill treating their workers. Or just may be, it has been some excited brat who called a Maun girl a Kaffir?
It is true for the minister that at the moment no action can be taken on an allegation since there will be nothing tangible to proof. Only an informed probe team can come up with facts that will inform all the stakeholders.
The problems in Zimbabwe and the simmering tension in South Africa over white farmers (and racism) is a lesson for Botswana and the country can act proactively to preempt such uncivilised attitudinal conduct before we lose our hard won “shining example” image.
Recent incidents in South Africa involving hate speech and outright race based skirmishes are not desirable.