The lengthy court battle between the Botswana government and the G/wi and G//ana people, who want to regain their rights to live on their traditional lands, will wrap up by May 15th. Formal testimonies in the courtroom and brutal beatings in the Kalahari bush continue, as they have over the past two years, during the final month of this protracted court fight.
On April 14, Survival International, the British Human rights organization that is championing the two San societies, reported that the government had arrested eight people when they tried to hunt on their traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). In a repeat of numerous earlier incidents (see our news stories of February 23, 2006, October 6, 2005, and July 7, 2005), the San people were allegedly beaten by the arresting officers. The April 14 press release indicated that “the eight men were tied to a pole for a day in a press-up position, and kicked and beaten if they tried to move.”
The men, from one of the resettlement camps located outside the CKGR, were heading into the CKGR to hunt for food. One of the men, evidently asked what he did, replied “I am doing nothing, and I’m suffering from hunger. That’s why you’re seeing us eating dogs.” The San people in the resettlement camp live on meager government rations.
The government of Botswana is not conceding the propaganda fight to Survival International and other human rights organizations. They have been taking willing conservative British Members of Parliament on sponsored tours of the CKGR to show them model resettlement camps. When he returned from his tour in April, MP Malcolm Moss said “ it is all about the Botswana government providing modern facilities to all of its people. The majority of [the San] prefer the new facilities. I didn’t see Bushmen suffering as a result of the move.”
The previous month, a conservative member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Tonge of Kew, who had taken an earlier Botswana-sponsored tour, made disparaging remarks on her return about the “stone age” San people who should join the modern world.
Perhaps, the most important action is occurring in the Supreme Court of Botswana in the closing days of the celebrity case. On April 26, the government lawyer, Sidney Pilane, claimed in court that the “CKGR is state land and belongs to the government. Who lives in it and who doesn’t is a matter for the government. Government can remove anybody from it who doesn’t have a permit to be there.”
A few days later, the government official who handled the relocation of the San people in 2002, Nono Macheke, testified that he was unable to remember what happened during the relocation procedures. He had been the District Commissioner in the nearest town, Ghanzi, but he indicated that he had had no conversations with any of the San people during the move, and that none of them had protested the relocation. None had been forced to move, and all had volunteered to leave their ancestral lands, he said in court. But under questioning he indicated, 36 times, that he was unable to recall details of the event. Numerous San witnesses had already testified during the trial that they had protested, but they had been forced to leave anyway.
The Toronto Globe and Mail sent a reporter to cover the closing days of the trial. Stephanie Nolen filed a lengthy report on May 5 in which she provides extensive background to the issue, quotes Roy Sesana, the San leader of the court fight, and presents the arguments of the government.
Mr. Sesana spoke eloquently. “I miss my land, the beauty of my land, my ancestors, and seeing my people living next to their ancestors, practicing their culture.” Describing the CKGR, he said “that place is ours. It’s not a game reserve; it’s our home.”
The Globe and Mail reporter presents the government’s position: that the San voluntarily accepted the relocation, and they are being provided education, health, and income-generating benefits in the government–run settlement facilities. Because they had begun keeping some livestock, the San people were threatening the health of the ecosystem in the CKGR, so they had to be moved.
“They want us out because of minerals and wildlife,” Sesana replies. He and the other plaintiffs argue that the relocations were forced on them, that now AIDs and alcoholism are rampant in the resettlement camps, and that the government forced them out of the CKGR in order to have unfettered access to the diamonds that are believed to be found in the area.
While the government representatives continue to indicate in court, to the press, and to tours for conservative British MPs that the relocation was entirely done for the good of the San people, the President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, has been more forthright in his comments. Ms. Nolen quotes him as saying about the San people, “How can we continue to have Stone Age creatures in the age of computers?”
A story a year ago in this website quoted the president’s frank admission that the primary issue was securing diamonds for Botswana. At least he is candid. But Clifford Maribe, a government spokesman, denies that diamonds have anything to do with the relocation, according to the Globe and Mail. “That is a baseless allegation,” he alleges.
The excellent story in the Globe and Mail provides the background to an issue pitting majority government rule against the human rights of a peaceful minority population that has a long history of suffering from discrimination at the hands of that majority.