Botswana’s bushmen battle for land


Source: BBC News

Thousands of bushmen used to live traditional hunter-gatherer lives inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but now there are just a handful. And few still wear their loincloths or use bows and arrows to hunt game.

The waterholes the government provided years ago changed them gradually into farmers – ironically the authorities’ refusal to continue supplying that water is now driving the bushmen from their land.

“People would go back if the supply of water was returned by the government,” Chief Segwaba said.

But according to the government, this is not an option.

“They can stay if they want to, but we cannot afford to supply them with services,” said Sydney Tshepiso Pilane, an adviser to the president and the man leading the government’s court battle with the San.

“Every government in every country formulates a policy for the development of all its people.

“They are not artefacts, they are not animals, they are not a tourist attraction, they are people. They do not belong where animals do, they belong in settlements, villages, towns and cities like you and me,” he said.

As part of the court’s fact-finding mission, judges and lawyers travelled to Kukama, once a bushmen village inside the reserve.

The long line of white four-wheel-drive vehicles swept into the village and drew to a halt.

The government told us to leave or they would send the army in

Campaigner Roy Sesana

The three judges, lawyers, barristers, court officials and journalists jumped from their cars to peer around Kukama, where only one family remains.

The women in their brightly coloured clothes and hats shouted above each other, stamping their feet and gesticulating at their huts and their animals.

In broken English and over the cries of the baby strapped to her back, one woman explained they were angry; they did not want to live anywhere else.

A small, elderly woman surged forward. “I want to die in my village,” she said.

This was another stop on the court’s safari through the central Kalahari, visiting resettlement camps and original villages where the bushmen live or lived.

The inspection is a preview to the court case which will pit tradition and culture against modernisation and development, and decide the future of the country’s original inhabitants.

It will sit in the bush at New Xade, the biggest resettlement area, and will decide if the bushmen were illegally evicted from their ancestral land.

‘Forced removal’

Roy Sesana, one of those who brought the case against the government, took me around Kukama, showing me where the water tank used to stand and where the homesteads had been burned down.

“The government told us to leave or they would send the army in,” he said.

The San’s hunter-gatherer life is a thing of the past

“My wife was ill and I was away in the capital arguing about these removals, and they told her to leave or else they would put her in my hut and burn it down.”

He is bitter about the resettlement and has been a thorn in the government’s side.

“The essence is the right of the people to continue to reside on their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve,” explained Glyn Williams, the bushmen’s lawyer.

“We believe that right is enshrined within the constitution, and forcibly removing the residents from their land by unlawfully terminating services is to deprive them of that right.”

The government says it wants them in one place so water and social services can be provided more cheaply.

There have been rumblings that diamond rights in the reserve are at the heart of this, but this seems unlikely – it has more of the trappings of paternalism and stubbornness when faced with international pressure.

The court case will have serious consequences for both the bushmen and the government – either denying the bushmen the right to their land, or opening the floodgates for other land claims.

But whichever way it goes, the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the bushmen is already gone, and no court case will ever bring it back.