Court to rule on Botswana’s Bushmen

High court to decide whether indigenous group can remain on reserve in the Kalahari.

kalahari bushmen bush botswana


The Bushmen want to remain
on their ancestral land

The Metsiamanong game reserve may provide a postcard perfect view of the central Kalahari desert in Botswana, but it is currently the centre of a bitter legal fight.

After four years the Botswana High Court will rule on Wednesday on the country’s indigenous Bushmen’s battle to return to the reserve.
The government began moving the Bushmen off the land in 1997, citing conservation and the need for modernity and development in the community as reasons behind the evictions.
However, the Bushmen and Survival International say the relocations are because of the discovery of diamonds in the area.
If the court ruling goes the way of the government, a small group of Bushmen who remain on the reserve could easily be the last to live in the Kalahari.
For millennia these plains were freely roamed by their ancestors, using their unique survival skills to live off the land.

Hard conditions

Despite government pressure, Gakelekgolele Gauberekwe and his family remain determined to hang on to their land.

The 59-year-old says his attempt to stay has come at great personal cost. His family are not allowed to hunt or keep goats, meaning that they have little food. There is also little water.
Gauberekwe accuses the government of systematically working them off the land.

“When the government stopped our hunting licences and the water, it was clear evidence that they want to relocate us. But we are not going anywhere, God has given us this land,” he says.

Locals say the discovery of diamonds
has prompted the reloccations

He says the relocations came as a surprise and while he and his family do not know much about the mining industry, they suspect the discovery of diamond deposits could be the reason for them losing their homes.
Despite having been involved in a lengthy court battle, the family say they will approach an international court if they have to.
Festus Mogae, Botswana’s president, denies the relocations have anything to do with the mining of diamonds.
“It’s a contradiction in terms to say you can move people out of a game park because you want to mine. Because once you mine more and more people want to come here,” he told Al Jazeera during a recent visit to the US.

New problems 

Fiona Watson, a campaign co-ordinator with Survival International, says: “They’ve been kicked out because the mining companies and the government do not want the Bushmen to claim royalties or any money from the benefits and profits of the diamonds.”

Kaudwane is one of three resettlements outside the reserve and, according to the government, conditions in these areas are “far superior” to those inside.
Yet there is little development in the resettlement area, unemployment is high and the relocations have brought a new set of problems to the Bushmen in the form of Aids and alcohol abuse.

The relocations have brought
many social problems

Cheap beer from informal taverns or more potent home brews often provide Bushmen with an escape from their troubles.

Matiba Tsarare, 36, and his family have very little. Recounting his problems through song he tells of despair, hopelessness and his inability to provide for himself and his family.
Ultimately the fate of those determined to remain in the Kalahari, such as Gakelekgolele Gauberekwe, will be decided on Wednesday in the high court several hundred kilometres away in the capital, Gaberone.
They will either win the right to preserve their culture as best they can or be told to move and begin a new life far removed from the one they know and one for which they are ill prepared.

Source: Al Jazeera