Good news and bad news.
The good news is that Covid-19 is practically over as a threat to normal commerce. The bad news is that in the Okavango Delta, normal commerce means keeping certain commercial establishments lily-white as was the case pre-Covid. As a result, those establishments have reactivated their whites-only policy.
At the height of Covid-19, some deep-pocketed Batswana were, for the first time in history, actively pursued as customers by Okavango Delta lodges and welcomed with open (and almost empty) money bags. That dark economic phase may be over. When he testified before the Public Accounts Committee last Wednesday, the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Boatametse Modukanele, said that “the tourism industry is coming back but very slowly because it is mainly based on international travel.”
Those whom international travel brings to Botswana are mostly westerners – who have always been the backbone of Okavango Delta tourism. Either Modukanele understated the pace of recovery or Delta tourism does roaring trade even at what is supposed to be “very slowly.” Sources in the Delta (employees) say that western tourists are keeping them very busy and that most of the lodges are purposefully rebuffing black customers – who include residents of neighbouring villages. Some have detailed their experiences and grievances on their group Facebook pages, lamenting how establishments that they supported during their darkest days ever (2020-2021) are returning the favour by barring them.
At one Delta village, residents remonstrated with management of a lodge and were given an explanation that doesn’t agree with what they can see with their own eyes. The explanation was that the lodge was being renovated and was given even as the lodge welcomed guests from overseas. A worker at another lodge, deep in the Delta, says that business at her establishment is fast picking up and that only whites are being accommodated.
Most of the Delta lodges are managed by white couples, most of them from South Africa. The official language is English and as Sunday Standard has reported in the past, the use of Setswana is prohibited in some resorts. The cuisine is strictly western and the most preferred currencies are the dollar, pound and euro. The most preferred guests are white and western and blacks are creatively kept out. With regard to the latter, Sunday Standard has reported about two former tourism ministers who were treated dastardly by different lodge owners until they (the owners) discovered who they were. As research from the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) shows, a good chunk of the profits is repatriated abroad, mostly overseas. Oddly, the government and media (both state-owned and private) give most publicity to a tourist asset (the Okavango Delta) which the nation benefits little from.