Botswana: Bushmen face forced relocation

From Survival International, Aug. 22:

The Botswana government has launched a massive crackdown on the Bushmen of the central Kalahari aimed at destroying their way of life. The move comes despite the resumption of the Bushmen’s three-year court case against the government for evicting them from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

• The government has announced that it is putting guards around the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to blockade the area and stop Bushmen going in.

• More Bushmen have been arrested for hunting to feed their families. Xhatshoe Xhose, Maiteko Digotlhong and Gothata Digotlhong have been arrested so far this month.

• The wildlife department has barred the Bushmen’s lawyers from entering the reserve to consult with their clients, even though the high court specifically asked them to do so.

• The radio authority has refused to renew licences to Bushmen in the Reserve who were using community transmitters to contact each other to ask for help in medical or other emergencies.

• Officials have gone so far as to stop the Bushmen’s own organisation, First People of the Kalahari, from talking to those in the reserve.

• The government is on the point of changing the country’s constitution to remove any existing protection for the Bushmen.

• Selelo Tshiamo, one of several Bushmen severely tortured by officials in June, died earlier this month. He had been repeatedly beaten on the chest to the point where he coughed blood. His chest pains increased in the following weeks until he finally succumbed to his injuries.

All this amounts to the most serious assault on Bushman rights since their eviction in 2002.

Recent investigations show that the Bushmen in the forced relocation camps have started to die after contracting HIV/AIDS. At least thirty-seven Bushmen have the infection in just one of the camps. Drunkenness and prostitution are spiralling out of control.

Journalist Sandy Gall witnessed Bushmen being evicted from their land in 1998. He said today, ‘The last hunting Bushmen in the world are now on the edge of destruction, only international support can save them. Unless ordinary people make their voices heard it will be too late and our 21st century world will add the Gana and Gwi Bushmen to the long list of indigenous peoples destroyed by racism and greed. Have we learnt absolutely nothing? Are we really going to allow yet another government to exterminate its tribal peoples?’

See our last post on the Bushmen struggle.

  1. Court room chaos
    A Sept. 1 update from Survival International:

    BOTSWANA: Court in chaos – government lawyer ‘arrested’ – Bushman reserve sealed off

    The Botswana government’s lead attorney in the Bushman case was today ordered to be arrested and imprisoned. In some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed in any high court, attorney Sidney Pilane, refusing to allow any policeman to touch him, fled arrest in a vehicle driven by another government witness, the Assistant Director of Parks. In a separate development, the government announced the closure of the Bushmen’s reserve to visitors for ‘administrative reasons’.

    As special advisor to the President, Pilane may be hoping that his power surpasses that of the Botswana judiciary. He repeatedly refused to stand up when the judges were speaking to him. He was warned twice that unless he did so he would be cited for contempt. He still refused to stand up, leaving the court little alternative than to commit him to prison.

    The court ordered he should be arrested immediately and brought back to court on Monday morning. This was the climax of Pilane’s examination of the state’s star ‘expert witness’, American ecologist and former employee of the Botswana government, Kathleen Alexander. Pilane was questioning her on material that the judges had already ruled should not be discussed.

    Alexander had already made no secret of her contempt for tribal peoples and hunter-gatherers. She wants them all out of any protected areas in order to favour the animal inhabitants. Echoing remarks made by the president, she said that they had to evolve, claiming that ‘culture’ had nothing to do with ancestral land and they could practise it anywhere.

    Amongst her asides was her comparison of inbreeding amongst animals ‘to what happened to the ruling elite in England. The Queen’s people would stay together and not mix.’ Although she claims to want everyone out of all protected areas, she herself lectures to American tourists – inside game reserves – who each pay US$10,000, plus tips, for their trip.

    Reacting to the fact that one of the Bushman’s lawyers is British and that their case is funded by donations raised internationally, Pilane last week said, ‘We do not want Europe to interfere and tell us what to do or not to do. We resent their involvement in our affairs. They should leave us alone.’ The Bushman case is already the longest and most costly in Botswana’s history, despite being brought by the country’s poorest inhabitants.

    A severe crackdown on the Bushmen was revealed by Survival last week. One of those recently tortured for hunting has died, others have been arrested, their own organisation has been barred from their reserve, and so have their lawyers. Guards have been posted around the reserve to stop Bushmen returning home. The government has even changed the country’s constitution, removing what Bushman protection it enshrined.

    Today, the government reinforced its determination to remove the Bushmen and end their way of life by announcing that no visitors would be allowed into their reserve, ‘for administrative reasons’, until further notice. Bushmen who have defied the government and returned to their lands after being thrown out in 2002 have been barred from using radio transmitters to talk to the outside world. From now on, whatever happens to the Bushmen in the Reserve will take place behind closed doors.

    The government is clearly angered by the international media which has reported extensively on its attacks on the Bushmen. The latest journalists to go in were from the BBC TV’s most prestigious news programme, ‘Newsnight’.

    In response to the latest developments, Survival today called for a total boycott of Botswana tourism and of its diamonds, mined and sold by the government and De Beers.

    Stephen Corry, Survival’s director, said today, ‘History is now being written. The destruction of so many American Indians and Australian Aborigines are some of the most shameful chapters in the history of recent centuries. If the Botswana government is not brought to its senses very quickly now, our own century will see the calculated and deliberate destruction of the central Kalahari Bushmen. Unfortunately none of the signs are good. The government is already on trial in its own country. Its own lawyer has fled arrest. If the court buckles, then this trial spells more than the end of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen. The ‘higher court’ of world opinion is perhaps the only hope left.’