Janet Street-Porter: Welcome to Botswana – the sanitised version

Share
Related Topics

I've read every book about Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's No.1 Lady Detective, and this weekend I will be tuning in to the BBC film based on the books. But listening to the emollient tones of author Alexander McCall Smith on the radio yesterday, I felt queasy. Over the years, his rose-tinted view of life in this corner of Africa has become increasingly hard to stomach, the exploits of traditionally built Precious and her sidekick the plain, bespectacled Mma Makutsi going from whimsically charming to morally dubious – the literary equivalent of eating a can of Delia-approved tinned mince.

Of course we don't always want to talk about Africa in terms of tragedy, but is it really acceptable to portray Botswana as if it was 1950s Britain rather than the world's largest supplier of diamonds?

Botswana was in the news this week when De Beers launched an important new multimillion dollar venture with the government to sort and value about 15 per cent of the country's diamonds, which will then be cut and polished locally. The new factory will create about 3,000 jobs in the capital, Gabarone.

Botswana produces more than 22 per cent of the world's diamonds, which contribute 80 per cent of the country's foreign earnings, but that does not necessarily mean economic prosperity. And diamonds are a finite resource. Unemployment runs at 20 per cent and one in four of the population live on just a dollar a day. More than a quarter of the population are HIV positive.

This week the UN Human Rights Commission will be meeting to discuss Botswana. Survival International, a charity fighting for the rights of indigenous people, has been campaigning to uphold the rights of the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, who are denied the right to hunt on their land and use the water boreholes there, in spite of a 2006 High Court ruling.

A report by the International Federation for Human Rights and the Botswana Centre for Human Rights has documented the "inhumane and degrading treatment" suffered by condemned prisoners and their families in the country. Relatives are not allowed to see prisoners before they are executed nor to visit the grave afterwards – the victims are buried within prison walls.

In Botswana, there is no legislation preventing employers from secretly testing their workforces for HIV, although neighbouring Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have laws preventing this kind of discrimination. When Debswana, the joint venture between DeBeers and the Botswana government, tested (openly) 6,500 employees, 28.8 per cent were HIV positive, leading them to set up health and support schemes. HIV is inflicting a terrible toll on a country with a population of only 1.7m – life expectancy has fallen to an average of 33.7 years.

Meanwhile, religious organisations are celebrating the popularity of McCall Smith's books – the author was educated at the Christian Brothers college in Bulawayo before teaching law at Botswana University – claiming that Precious is a great Christian role model, hoping the film and telly series will create a Harry Potter effect and bring thousands of tourists to Botswana. In the hands of co-writer Richard Curtis and director Anthony Minghella, this Sunday's programme is guaranteed to be a feel-good experience, but without wishing to be a party-pooper, perhaps we could all remember that there is another, less sanitised version of life in Botswana?

No way to treat your liver, Mike

Good to see evidence that binge drinking in Britain isn't the prerogative of the young or the underclass. The Cheltenham Festival last week offered an opportunity for our national sport – and even members of the Royal family apparently participated. After a long day, Zara Phillips and her boyfriend Mike Tindall were reportedly somewhat the worse for wear. Next morning Tindall was stopped by the police while driving to the England-Ireland match at Twickenham. He failed a breath test and was held in a police cell for several hours. Mr Tindall has a seriously damaged liver after injuries sustained during a match six weeks ago – maybe he hasn't realised that this is the organ boozers need to process all those units.

* One side-effect of the credit squeeze is the rash of well-meaning features offering advice on how to live economically. There's sensible stuff, like eating more seasonal vegetables, planning a week's worth of meals in one go, and cooking from scratch rather than using pre-cooked or processed food.

Fine if you've got the time – but if your monthly mortgage bill has risen by £100, that's a lot of turnips and brisket, and the idea of freezing left-over red wine to put in sauces is daft. Given the recent increases in utility bills, most of us won't be letting an inch of red plonk sit around in the bottle, no matter how much tax Mr Darling has slapped on it.

At times like this, what we want are things that are going to make us feel better, like large bars of chocolate. Quite honestly, trekking down to Billingsgate on a Saturday to pick up cheap fish is a non-starter.

Meanwhile, the same female journalists who offer tips on saving money take up acres of newsprint telling us that designer shoes are the new handbags...

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

My limerick response to Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso

Simon Kelner
The number of ring ouzels have seen a 30 per cent decline in the last 10 years  

How the sight of flocks of ring ouzels helps to turn autumn into the new spring

Michael McCarthy
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London