The recent conviction of racist Allen Bekker who not only threw a bottle at local artist Keotshepile Motseonageng (Berry Heart) and threatened to kill her but uttered derogatory racist remarks against her has been seen as victory against abuse on the basis of colour. Bekker was sentenced to two years in prison wholly suspended for three years for threatening to kill her. Their altercation caught public eye because the outspoken artist publicised it on social media. So shocking was the fact that Bekker, according to Berry Heart, did not only threaten to kill her, but also uttered derogatory racist remarks which were not only meant to demean her but to portray her race as somehow lesser than his (Bekker is white). Berry Heart also states that Bekker had on the said night last year launched a racist attack on her and a friend calling them prostitutes after throwing a beer bottle at their direction. The Kasane magistrate Molema Molema, who presided over the matter, is quoted as saying that the offence was motivated by racial hatred and such had no place in Botswana. “It will be a sad day for democracy if such statements are tolerated, therefore copy-cats and would-be offenders, whether black or white, should be warned that the long arm of the law will catch up with them irrespective of colour,” Molema said.
Though most people, who had been following Berry Heart’s case or at least were privy to some details surrounding it, were surprised that racism exists in Botswana and had no idea that it has been in existence way before she chose to speak about her ordeal, the truth of the matter is more Batswana had fallen victim to racism before. The tourism sector, which Berry Heart’s abuser happens to work in, is seemingly where this ugly attitude is deeply rooted. A 2002 study by University of Botswana Professor Joseph Mbaiwa captures the blunt and unfiltered facts about racism in the tourism industry. In the study particular attention was paid to the relationship between whites and blacks within the tourism industry in the Okavango Delta and in Maun. According to the study 57.1% of the respondents (workers and managers) indicated that racism was a problem in the Okavango Delta where white operators discriminate against blacks (ironically, all the managers that were interviewed in the safari camps in the delta were white) and about 64.9% of the safari managers in the delta noted the existence of racism in the industry, especially in the various camps and lodges.
Professor Mbaiwa‘s study further shows that respondents explained that racism in the tourist industry in Okavango Delta is associated with factors such as discrimination into positions of employment, ill-treatment and unfair dismissal from work of black workers by white employers and the unpleasant working conditions that they are subjected to by employers. “Respondents noted that there is a deliberate attempt by safari operators not to recruit educated blacks who can occupy management positions that attract high salaries as such jobs are “reserved” for whites. In cases where locals or blacks occupy management positions, blacks are paid lower salaries than those of their white counterparts in similar positions,” the study stated. According to the study ill-treatment of black workers was further explained by the long hours that black workers were subjected to in safari camps with no overtime allowances. This, according to the study, was also shown by frequent dismissals and retrenchments from work of safari workers. Though the department of Labour in Maun was not able to provide figures on the dismissed workers, at the time, it, however, confirmed dealing with such cases time and again. It also confirmed dealing with cases of abusive language that is often used against black workers by safari managers.
“Furthermore, these workers noted that while in the Delta, they are provided with water from the river or borehole for consumption while their white counterparts are provided with mineral water from Maun. In some camps, workers complained of water which they assumed is not healthy for consumption,” the study revealed. Perhaps Bekker’s unruly behaviour towards Berry Heart is also reflected in this 15-year-old study, in an observation made by a manager of one of the camps in the Okavango Delta about black Batswana. The manager is quoted for having said black Batswana are “… generally ignorant, lazy and promiscuous. It’s not unusual for a black Motswana to have thirteen sexual partners…” According to study this not only explains the manager’s “deep rooted prejudice” against black workers in the Okavango Delta and the nation of Botswana as a whole but It showed the manager’s lack of respect and her negative attitude and looking down upon black citizens of Botswana as a cultural group.
Though this study is close to 15 years old and there has not been a recent one done, Mbaiwa said the situation is still the same. “We have not done any similar study, afterwards but from where I stand, nothing has changed,” said Mbaiwa. Although the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism claims to be fully against any form of racism, Berry Heart says they were never supportive to her. “I fought this alone, they only called me to their office once and that was it,” she said. According to the artist, she is happy that justice has finally prevailed but says it’s sad that most racism cases usually go unreported. With the case over and judgement delivered Berry Heart says she hopes other Batswana will also speak out against any form of racial abuse. BTO spokesperson Ketitumetse Setlang said while they investigated the incident, it was the Department of Tourism which was responsible for such matters.