Some colleagues of mine and I landed at an airport in Sydney, Australia many years ago and before we were out of the terminal we had been interviewed and had had a our luggage checked four times.
To be sure, we were on government duty. When the fourth police officer approached us, we politely protested and asked why we were being picked on so frequently.
The police officer would tell us that his dog had taken interest in our luggage, which was nonsense. The skinny mongrel had been all over the terminal sniffing at bags and was never bothered about our bags.
We knew, it had everything to do with our race. Our being black and being four in number made us possible drug traffickers.
And then there was this time when I was going through a customs check at Or Tambo International Airport en route to the Reunion Island. I chanced to be in a beeline of white people boarding what if my memory serves me well was a Quantas flight.
Some black people may possibly have checked in already, but there was hardly any one with my skin pigmentation in sight. A black security officer, was carefully observing the queue from a few metres away. I could tell he was at war with his thoughts about me.
He finally mastered the courage, approached me, and politely asked if he could search my hand luggage. I obliged and quietly opened my bag.
I had already been through the security check point but I am not complaining about that. I stepped to the side of the line and as he was busy peering through my bag’s contents, I calmly but bluntly put it to him that he had picked on me because I was black.
I made sure the whites he had ignored heard me just to embarrass him a little.
I asked him why he had, out of perhaps a 100 white people come straight for a man his own colour and why had he not picked a random white person on the line before picking me and also, if he will be picking on white people after. I told him that I wasn’t disappointed with being searched.
I was a frequent traveller and had been searched tens of times. I was just disappointed to be experienced racial profiling, black on black. That was painful. You don’t know whether to weep or squeal.
Look, I am not an unreasonable person. I know visitors must, of necessity, be subjected to some of these indignities. It is in their own interest and in the interest of the host country. One thing I have never experienced though, is being racially profiled at home. I hope I never do.
There is always a special feeling that comes with a touchdown at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport or a check in past a Botswana immigration post at the border.
Somehow, you just know you are home. You feel relaxed and safe. Not that there aren’t idiots in Botswana. We make them by the dozen. You are likely to be pissed off by one before your next meal but that is ok so long as you are home.
One thing you can hardly ever think of is being called a “kaffir”, or being otherwise racially profiled in Botswana. Sadly, I am told there is racism in Botswana.
I am told that it is rampant in the white dominated tourism sector away from the cities, and that workers and local populations are subjected to racist abuse every day. What is hopefully a distant possibility to me is, apparently, an immediate reality to a fellow citizen somewhere.
This week a friend made a claim that some white fellow, in Gaborone, had called him a “kaffir” and had arrogantly repeated it at least four times.
My immediate reaction was to recommend the application of some severities but Facebook quickly took my post down. Some racists reported it. Well, it could have been the OR Tambo black variety.
One way or the other, I would survive a racial slur. Perhaps I have had the blessing of a modest education that has ensured that I know my place in the world but I cannot say that of every citizen.
Socio-economic factors are relevant in our responses to the indignities meted against us. I surely know how I would react. Since my preferred course would offend this paper’s editorial policy, I won’t suggest it.
What I fear is what a simple racial slur can do to my children; and that literally includes every Motswana child. I can imagine my child being called a “kaffir” in their country; their innocence and confidence being destroyed by a single word and they being made to feel like it was a curse to be born black.
Over my dead body. We must unapologetically teach our children that they own this country and should never allow anyone to make them feel less human.
Botswana should be a racism free country. We must immediately deport as well as revoke the work permits and acquired citizenships of all racists.
We must amend our laws to ensure that the use of a word like “kaffir”, similar words, and all other proven acts of racism are punished by a mandatory prison term of at least two years and mandatory corporal punishment regardless of age.
No. Not in Botswana please.