Botswana President Ian Khama has courted public criticism after he referred to a Zimbabwean man employed by his government as a mokwerekwere.
Mokwerekwere is a derogatory term often used to refer to foreigners, especially Zimbabweans, in Botswana and South Africa.
In an address at a public meeting last Thursday, Khama reportedly called out to the Botswana civil servant from Zimbabwe saying “Hey, what is your name?”
Some Batswana are said to be very angry at what Khama said and when a Gaborone-based radio station, GabzFM, played a recording of the offending words, listeners called to register their displeasure.
A caller reportedly said: “What would Khama say if he were called a lekutwane (a person of mixed race)?”
But Khama’s supporters were quick to come to his defence, saying he was only joking and that people took his statement out of context.
Already some people in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) are said to be so furious with GabzFM for allowing a caller to refer to the president in unsavoury terms.
GabzFM station manager Joyce Manase-Ntau confirmed they had received complaints from some BDP officials who expressed their anger over the broadcast.
“We don’t stand for that kind of broadcasting where people call and use insulting language against others,” she said.
“I guess these are the challenges of live radio where a caller just blurts something hurtful to others before you realise it.”
BDP secretary-general, Mpho Balopi, said he was not aware of what Khama said in Molepolole, but hastened to say that the caller was disrespectful by referring to a head of state in unpalatable terms.
Balopi said Khama could have been joking.
“He did not mean to hurt the poor man,” Balopi said.
Botswana Congress Party president Dumelang Saleshando said Khama had “gone overboard” and should just apologise for calling someone a mokwerekwere. Saleshando said the joke would have been appropriate if Khama had made it in reference to someone who would be in a position to reply and not a “poor foreigner who cannot dare say anything back to Khama, lest he gets deported by the President”.