afrol News, 1 June - International protest is mounting against the Botswana government's treatment of the country's indigenous San ("Bushmen") people in the name of wildlife protection. A report maintains, "The government is forcing the Bushmen to choose between starvation and leaving the land they have lived on for 20,000 years."
Survival, a London based organisation supporting tribal peoples, today stated its outrage over a report from Botswana, indicating that the few remaining Khwe (a San people, formally called "Bushmen") are to be driven out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
- The last Kalahari Bushmen are being forced to leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, stated Survival spokesperson Iona Singleton. Survival had received a report that the local district council intends to cut essential services to the Bushmen such as food, water and basic healthcare. "This latest move is part of a long standing drive by the government of Botswana to evict the Khwe Bushmen from their land to make way for tourism and diamond mining," claims Singleton.
The nomadic Khwe and other San people are considered the first inhabitants of Southern Africa, including Botswana. Later arriving Bantu people, bringing agriculture to the zone, pushed the San into less fertile areas, where they developed into specialists of exploiting the scarce natural resources; water, game and vegetation. With central governments came a constant push to settle the San or move into even more marginal areas.
In the 1960s the Setswana government urged the formerly nomadic San to settle. The authorities severely restricted the numbers of animals the San were allowed to hunt, making them dependent on government rations.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, measuring 51,800 square kilometres, is the third largest game reserve in Africa. It was created in 1961 and was originally set aside for the Khwe and the wildlife on which they depend. However, since the 1980s the government of Botswana has repeatedly tried to evict San communities from their ancestral land. Doing this, "the government is violating international law by not recognising the Bushmen's land ownership rights," claims Survival.
- The authorities forbid this hunter gatherer people from hunting more than a few animals a year, and have now voted to withdraw their food and water supply in an attempt to drive them from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, says Singleton.
Several San "have recently been tortured by wildlife officials and local police for supposedly exceeding their hunting allowance," Singleton claims. A selective enforcement of wildlife laws is perceived to be intimidation by the reserve's residents. Charges that game scouts and other officials have mistreated people have been documented by human rights organisations since the early 1990s.
Already in May 1997, the government of Botswana chose to resettle several hundred residents from the Game Reserve in the name of wildlife conservation and tourism promotion. The San reacted strongly to this request, arguing that the Game Reserve was established originally as a means of protecting their own land and resource use rights.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Botswana government had pursued a policy of "freezing" development in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. When the borehole at !Xade, the largest community in the reserve, broke down, it took months before it was fixed. Buildings and roads were not maintained in the reserve except for those going to Department of Wildlife and National Parks camps. Even drought relief feeding programs were slower in the central Kalahari than elsewhere in Botswana, according to the American Anthropological Association.
The population of the Reserve in 1996 was 1,482 people, numbers probably being even lower at present. The population of the reserve in general has declined from some 5,000 in the early 1960s to the present population of between 1,000 and 1,400.
The President of Botswana was in Britain last month to promote Botswana's diamond mining industry, with the slogan "Diamonds for development". However diamonds could mean death for the Bushmen who live in the mineral rich Central Kalahari Game Reserve. If the central government approves the district council's decision this will destroy the Bushmen communities in the Reserve.
This week Survival is launching a letter writing campaign in support of the Bushmen's rights. Survival's Director General, Stephen Corry, said today, "The government of Botswana's outrageous and illegal treatment of its Bushmen today makes a mockery of its claim that its diamonds are 'clean'."
The Basarwa and Khwe San peoples themselves have organised grassroots level protests against the ways they are treated. They have formed indigenous advocacy organisations, one example being Kgeikani Kweni (First People of the Kalahari), which was established in 1992 and has worked to promote San interests in national and global (UN) forums. They have gained support from several rights organisations, including Amnesty.