Xenophobia among Batswana must go now

Cry freedom: Police regularly round up illegal immigrants
Cry freedom: Police regularly round up illegal immigrants

The centerpiece of literacy as a cultural value and practice as the gateway to global awareness and to global travel rather than merely for local leisure consumption is seen in Khama III and other Batswana chiefs valuing reading and writing both in their native tongues and in English.

It is no wonder that in 1905 there were 1,000 Batswana in primary and secondary school according to Professor Lone Ketsitlile, a BIUST Professor and Mogae Institute research associate. It is no wonder that literacy and the globalism it encouraged was a family cultural value Khama III passed down to his wives and to his descendants.

It is no accident but within the tradition of family values that Khama III’s grandson, the future first President Sir Seretse Khama, found himself as a rare African studying at Oxford in the late 1940s and 1950s and was cosmopolitan and independent enough to marry a non-African which caused such a fervor amongst racist whites and traditional blacks, including members of his own family.

It takes global awareness to be able to step out of the box of one’s traditional local culture and to take the chance to live and to grow which may require breaking taboos and seeing people unlike you as human beings, culturally different, but nonetheless, human beings.


That is what the first President of this great remarkable democracy learned from his grandfather and, in turn, his grandfather, who stood up against his indigenous worshipping father when he accepted Christ, must have learned his value for being willing to step out the box of his local tribal culture from some influential ancestor before the missionaries came with a new way of viewing and living life.

I believe that the willingness of the honourable Sir Seretse Khama and those Presidents and other national and local leaders who followed to mold Botswana into a different kind of African nation-state – to be a democracy rather than a big man dictatorship, to make peace rather than war among tribes and ethnic populations, to be non-racist, inter-tribal wealth sharing, and so on– all stems from indigenous leadership values encouraging global awareness and globally navigating leading to government leadership interest in establishing BIUST as an institution of higher learning with an authentic global vision.

I think the challenge is that global awareness and global living is too often in democracies and dictatorships alike elite privileges as well as values which need to be universal for all citizens no matter their status in life to have access to.

This universalisation of global awareness, values, and practices is essential for Botswana like any other 21st century democracy to realise well beyond media images and Facebook pages if Batswana wish to effectively compete in a society, continent and world which in many respects mandates globalism as life skills such as travel and living in different places outside the country and continent if extensive social mobility and prosperity is to be realised and sustained

It is through global awareness that we gain the recognition that we are all human beings and therefore none of us are really foreigners but are just culturally different deserving respect. This is the only way xenophobia begins to decline.

It is because global awareness makes people curious about others, anxious to learn from each other rather than being fearful of foreigners as strange people who should be shunned at all costs. I have noticed too often too many Batswana of affluent as well as non-affluent status who just stare at or ignore strangers in their midst, strangers who just may be very beneficial to them as human beings, as potential friends rather than solely as commodities to exploit for financial gain or visa access.

As long as xenophobia rides in a society, everyone loses since we waste time trying to figure out ways to exclude rather than being welcoming to strangers who can enhance economies as quality human resources and more than that, are friends and caring neighbours.

Rather than reaching out to strangers, staring at them and not speaking with them robs us of the opportunity to develop interesting enriching lives which can benefit socially, culturally, and emotionally. It also results in our inability and the lack of capacity of our children who observe our stares and pointed fingers towards the foreigner walking down the street or sitting across from us on the bus or plane to enjoy the potential of expansive mobility in the global world in which we live. 

Instead we become and remain stuck in our narrow local environments perhaps content in our prejudices which keep us home and with “our own,” increasingly unable to cope with the demands of what it means to be a 21st century person.

This is what makes xenophobia in a small country with such a fragile economy and physical and sociopolitical environment like Botswana costly to the health and stability of the nation-state.

As the indigenous founders of what became known as Botswana well realised, especially when you are surrounded by states and powers much bigger than you, one can ill afford to be provincial and thus ignorant about the ways of the world and the way to navigate through it for the sake of both survival and for the pursuit of prosperity. So to the young Batswana man who treated me in such a demeaning way as a foreigner much older than yourself against your cultural upbringing all because I am a foreigner and a black one at that, get a grip or as we black folks say in America, “get a hold of yourself,” unless you wish the rest of the world to continue passing you by as you say “charge it” in regards to your American Express card the next time you are shopping at the exclusive Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

But thanks for being the spark which put a fire under me to write this essay. For that reason how can I not yield to the temptation and dedicate this all too lengthy discourse to you?

And I do so realising that you do not represent the openness to all strangers which I have experienced among ordinary Batswana not threatened by the coming of foreigners to help your country to continue to rise. This is to say, I recognise where the young man is coming from.

He is part of an emerging professional class of Batswana whose greed for power and money outweighs their love for their country.

They view foreigners with high skills they do not have as an envious threat to their lifestyles enough to do all they can to make those foreigners who desire to come to contribute as capacity builders, become discouraged enough to leave – or to use their connections with immigration to make sure they do not get visas to come or to stay.

A pity, an embarrassing shame it will be if the reality of growing xenophobia amongst those in the Botswana government and civil society leadership positions comes to catch up with and surpass the lofty global image reputation of the nation-state.

All that toiling and emerging from desert sands and cattle posts of past Botswana founding and following generations of dedicated interculturally open leaders will, with the settling in of xenophobia, go down the societal drain.

This is why before it is everlastingly too late: Batswana xenophobia must go. Now.

 

PROFESSOR JOHN H. STANFIELD, II*

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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