Wednesday, June 23, 2021

“Racial injustice” blight Botswana’s biggest private impact fund

An American impact Investment Fund’s promises of great returns and social impacts to Batswana is floundering on the rocks of Wilderness Safaris alleged racial abuse of citizens.

Wrapped up in buzzwords, glossy brochures, soft-focus images and claims of ethical business practices The Rise Fund believed to be the largest private impact fund ever raised in Botswana held great promise for Batswana, but indications are that all that glitter was fool’s gold.

The Rise Fund, a subsidiary of TPG one of America’s biggest private equity firms known for aggressive buyout deals, was hoping to present a friendlier face to Botswana to convince its American investors that their environmental, social and corporate governance credentials are more than just branding. While The Rise Fund promised its American financers to deploy their money in socially responsible investments, an online petition by “concerned” Batswana has revealed underlying tensions between the fundamental values of the American impact investment firm and the alleged entrenched toxic workplace culture and racial injustice at Wilderness Safaris.

The concerned Batswana petitioners are hoping to leverage this tension in their fight against Wilderness Safaris’ alleged racial injustice.

The petition, led by one Setlhomo Stizzy is addressed to the Rise Fund board members Rise Fund Board who own 34 percent shares in the Wilderness Safaris through TPG Growth. The board members are: :  Bill McGlashan, David Bonderman and Jim Coulter, founding partners of TPG Capital; Jeff Skoll, first president of eBay; Rock star Bono; philanthropist Lynne Benioff, wife of a flamboyant tech billionaire, Marc Benioff; British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson (Virgin); Mellody Hobson, Vice-Chair of Starbucks, former chair of the board of directors of DreamWorks Animation and wife of Hollywood director-producer, George Lucas; Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn; Sudanese-British philanthropist and telecoms billionaire, Mo Ibrahim; Indian Mahindra conglomerate chairperson, Anand Mahindra; philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs; billionaire philanthropist and founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar; and Unilever CEO, Paul Polman.”

The petition had registered at least 600 signatures by the time of going to press. In a world where the dual scourges of immense poverty and global warning often overwhelm even the most optimistic people, these Impact Investors see themselves as a new breed of socially responsible investors that are stepping into the breach and staking hundreds of billions of dollars on solving the massive problems facing humankind. And reports of racial injustice cramps their style.

The petition calls on the company to among others, address employee salary difference which they say is based on race despite both black citizens and white expatriates having the same experience and qualifications.

The petition comes in the back of a recently leaked video appearing to show a white expatriate manager assaulting a junior member of staff which the company says was shot in 2019.

The company has come out to say they were dealing with the matter. But that has not stopped some citizens from raising complaints with the Wilderness Safaris board over the treatment of locals at their luxury camps.

“They must ensure that Black Managers are not forced to drive 10 hours to remote camps while White managers are pampered with 40 minute flights. They must ensure their language policy is standard. If Setswana which is the official language of Botswana is not allowed in their Safari camps this has to also extend to Afrikaans which is not an official language of Botswana,” reads part of the petition.

“They must ensure they have incident reports in place. They must preserve the native language and culture. They must improve their Corporate Social Responsibility.”

The petitioners say they are basing their petition on various incidents that have been observed at the safari camps. “On January 27th, a video showing aracial confrontation between Wilderness Safaris Concession Manager Johan von Backstrom of Afrikaans descent and Samba of indigenous people of Botswana surfaced on social media. The brutality of this assault was shocking as it showed not only abuse of power by White/Afrikaans Managers at Wilderness Safaris, but racial violence meted on junior employees majority of who are indigenous people.”

According to the petition former employees took to social media platforms to share personal accounts of racial abuse they have faced at Wilderness Safaris Botswana establishments.

“This racial abuse includes payment disparity between white and black managers. White managers some of whom have less work experience are paid four times higher than black managers despite the latter having extensive work and academic experience.”

The petitioners also claim black employees are not allowed to converse in their native language among themselves in the remote camps while their Afrikaans colleagues freely converse in their own language.

“These acts of racial discrimination among others have long been reported to Maun Labour department. Sadly, nothing has ever been done. Therefore we are calling for the intervention of the Rise Fund Board who own 34 percent shares in the Wilderness Safaris through TPG Growth.”

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