The Botswana High court has resumed hearing a suit by the G/wi to restore their traditional hunting rights in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The G/wi and the G//ana, a nearby San society, were forced out of their traditional homelands in the Reserve by the government of Botswana in the late 1980s and they have been struggling with the consequences of rural poverty—begging, AIDS, alcoholism, TB, and government handouts—ever since.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), a vast tract of land in central Botswana, was established by the British colonial administration in 1961 to protect the wildlife, the natural environment, and the lifestyles of the indigenous G/wi and G//ana people. According to the attorneys for the two San societies, the 1966 constitution of the newly-independent state of Botswana upheld the purposes of the CKGR by restricting entry and residence by non-San people. This clearly established the San traditional rights to their lands under Botswana law, they argue.

A news story from the UN Integrated Regional Information Network on January 19, 2005, indicates that the government is arguing it had persuaded the San peoples to voluntarily withdraw from their traditional lands. “At no stage during the relocation exercise did [the] government or its public officers involved in the relocation use force, coerce people residing in the game reserve, or threaten anyone of them in any way.”

Perhaps, but the various organizations supporting the G/wi and the G//ana disagree. First People of the Kalahari started organizing resistance in the early 1990s. A few years later three other groups, the Botswana Council of Churches, Ditshwanelo (a human rights group), and the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) began serious negotiations with the government. When negotiations ultimately failed, the groups launched their legal action in July 2004. The case, recessed for two months in November 2004, resumed on January 17.

According to the coordinator of WIMSA, “the government has trampled on our rights, and terminating basic and essential services is tantamount to forced eviction…. We are determined to remain on our ancestral lands.”

The government blames the court case on the First People of the Kalahari group and on Survival International, an organization based in London which is supporting the G/wi and the G//ana. The government alleges that those two groups are intimidating the San into resisting their exile from their traditional lands. Responding to that, Survival International charges that the San were removed from the CKGR due to diamond explorations. The government, of course, denies that claim.

The court case will determine if the government acted legally by forcibly depriving the G/wi and the G//ana of their lands. The court will also address the charge that the government does not have the right to deny hunting licenses to these people on their traditional hunting grounds. Furthermore, the suit charges that the government has illegally deprived the San peoples of essential services to force them off their lands.

The news article does not indicate how long it may take for the court to finish hearing the evidence or when a decision may be reached. Whether the G/wi will be treated justly remains to be seen.

Detailed background information on this issue can be found on the Web in an article by Robert K. Hitchcock.