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A woman’s casual complimentary remark, comparing the features of the president of Botswana to the Bushmen, recently landed her in jail for two days. Dorsey Dube, a South African woman, had been visiting Botswana with three friends, but just before they crossed back into their own country, she noticed a framed picture of President Ian Khama at the border check post. She tried to make a favorable comment about him by comparing him to a friend of her father’s, who evidently had features like a Bushman.

Her comment, that President Khama “looks like a Bushman,” may have been intended as a compliment but the Botswana border guards took it as an invidious comparison and an insult to the nation. They detained her for interrogation at a police station, refused to allow her to make any phone calls, and held her overnight in jail.

Reports of the situation at the end of last week provoked controversy in the southern African nation because the incident appeared to display racist, hostile attitudes toward their indigenous minority people, at least among authorities in the country. Botswana citizens are sensitive to the international condemnation of their government’s treatment of the G/wi and the other indigenous San people who have been expelled from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The San have been persecuted in recent years for wanting to live in their homes in the desert, desires that the government has tried in every way to thwart.

As it so often does, the British NGO Survival International weighed in on the controversy, condemning what it saw as another incident that displayed racist attitudes in the government toward their minority citizens. Stephen Corry, SI Director, describing what happened as tragic, said, “you couldn’t have clearer evidence of the racism towards Bushmen in Botswana than this incident.”