Saturday, July 4, 2020

SOUTH AFRICA’S SO CALLED “XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS” ARE A “PRIZE OF INEQUALITY” THAT BOTSWANA SHOULD LEARN FROM

This past week the African continent woke up to yet another dose of bloodshed. Just like a few years back, nationals of neighbouring country – South Africa killed and in some instances injured nationals of other African countries.

The inhumane acts have been widely accepted or labelled as Xenophobia. But are they really Xenophobia?  The answer could be YES or maybe NO.

From where we stand, it does not really matter what we call it. However, it does matter whether we are able to agree on the root-cause of the so called Xenophobia. Question is, as Africans, are we at a point where we can agree with what one of the SA political leaders – Julius Malema said on Thursday that economic development should favour locals? Are we in a position where we can all agree that priority on wealth creation, on any given territory should be given to the locals? As Malema said on Thursday, if economic development does not favour the locals for an extended period attacks such as the one ongoing in South Africa are inevitable. This cannot be loosely translated to be Xenophobic. The acts are barbaric and inhumane of course. There is no excuse for them but for countries like Botswana which have not yet experienced such we ought to learn something from it. The Prizes of inequality are just what we see happening across the border south. We do not wish to see what happening there in our shore. But as stated, the root cause of the brutal acts ongoing in SA is the prolonged income inequality. Botswana has been classified and remains amongst the leaders when it comes to unequal societies in the world. What does this tell us in terms of where we could be headed to?

Much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with the current economic situation that Batswana find themselves in. Many, if not most Batswana are aware of the nature of the inequality in our society today. They know its intensity because they are either poor themselves, live next to a poor family or their relatives are extremely poor. Some come from the poorest districts like Boteti, Kgalagadi and Ngamiland and they know the face of poverty. Some are just a pay-cheque away from poverty, they can actually smell it.

As we usually note in this space, we can no longer afford to ignore our country’s growing inequality and its grave economic, political and social consequences. Unless we want to turn ourselves into another xenophobic nation like big brother South Africa.

Whilst we pause and pray for the families of those who have been killed this week in SA we should also pray for the improvement of living standards of Batswana. The success of any economy can be or should be assessed only by looking at what is happening to the living standards of most of its citizens over a sustained period of time.

The truth is – if an economic system leads to so many people without jobs, or with jobs that do not pay a liveable wage, dependent on government for food, medication, etc, like ours has – that it economic system has not worked in the way it should have. The end results usually becomes what we see happening in SA now. Just like in South Africa, a good number of Batswana are struggling to get a small piece of land in their own country. This makes it even more difficult to build houses for those who can afford to. The end result and final resort then becomes “renting out” which is costly. A sizeable number of Batswana in both rural and urban areas remain un-housed. This contributes immensely to the growing income inequality in this country. The prize of inequality that South Africa is now paying should serve as a reminder to us to prioritise closing the gap between the Haves and Have-not.

To close this wide gap between the rich and the poor we need strategies that will ensure that the people of this country have access to knowledge, support, services and opportunities that is needed for them to thrive economically. The #Bottomline and key lesson from SA’s xenophobic acts is that any leader can harness the energy of his people either towards constructive work to generate optimism and hope or towards tensions and unrest. The latter usually happens when there is failure to provide basics such as jobs, land and business opportunities.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.