Botswana: indigenous rights under attack

Unfortunately, the recent victory for indigenous land rights in Brazil may be followed by a rollback of recent gains for indigenous peoples in Botswana–where the world is paying even less attention. Reads an April 18 alert from Survival International:

Botswana’s government is pushing a bill through Parliament to scrap the key clause in the Constitution which protects Bushmen‘s rights. The move comes half way through the Bushmen’s landmark legal action against the government, in which the same clause forms a major plank of the Bushmen’s case. The trial marks the first time in Botswana’s history that the clause has actually been tested in court, but the government aims to scrap it within a few months.

The clause, technically known as s14(3)(c), says that the general public can have their right to free movement restricted within ‘defined areas’ if this is necessary for the protection or well-being of Bushmen. In practice this should mean that the Gana and Gwi Bushmen’s ancestral land within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is protected. The Bushmen rely on this clause for part of their case against the government for evicting them from the reserve.

The Bushmen’s own organisation, First People of the Kalahari, said in a statement, “How can the government even think of changing this section halfway through our court case? This section was included in the Constitution to give us protection. Now we are trying to rely on the section for the first time in history. Can it be a coincidence that a few months later, the government has decided to remove it?”

The legal battle has been dragging on for years, and at least 22 of the original 240 Bushmen who brought the case have died. Meanwhile, the government has been forcibly moving the Bushmen from the reserve to relocation camps, where families are divided and prostitution, alcoholism and disease have taken hold. Many Bushmen have been returning to their ancestral lands, in spite of the fact that their villages have been destroyed by the government and they are subject to arrest by game wardens.

Survival International is requesting polite but firm letters of protest to:

His Excellency Festus Mogae
President of Botswana
President’s Office
Private Bag 001

  1. Bots… who?
    Unfortunately for the Bushmen, this injustice is unlikely to win much global news coverage–because Botswana is one of the lowest priorities for the War on Terrorism. BBC reports April 21 that Aaon, the world’s second-largest insurance broker, has issued a report delineating the level of terror threat faced by various countries around the world. Among those facing “severe risk” were, of course, Iraq, India and Russia. Botswana was in the “low risk” end of the spectrum, along with Greenland, Uruguay, North Korea, Vietnam and Mongolia.

    We’ll also note that according to a UPI account of the Bushmen relocation, “The Botswana Democratic Party, led by [President Festus]Mogae since 1988, has been in power since independence in 1966 and its majority allows it to push such measures through virtually unhindered.” Gee, sounds just like Botswana’s far more newsworthy neighbor Zimbabwe, where the much-demonized Robert Mugabe rules under similar circumstances. I guess the difference is that Mugabe is notoriously taking land away from rich white farmers, sparking much global outrage. When its just the Bushmen–fuck ’em.