afrol News, 27 June - The indigenous San people of Botswana (formerly called 'Bushmen'), victims of a resource conflict over a game reserve with the government, are subject to "undemocratic treatment", including "torture", protesting international organisations allege. Today marks the launch of a weekly vigil outside the Botswana High Commission in London, advising tourists not to visit the country.
Botswana, normally seen as a flagship of democracy and civil rights in Southern Africa, is subject to harsh critics for its policy towards the San people in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. "The government of Botswana is flouting international law with its refusal to recognise the ownership rights of the Bushmen over the land they have lived on for at least 20,000 years," today stated the UK based organisation Survival, which has led international critics against Botswana. Survival International is a "worldwide organisation supporting tribal peoples."
- Harassment of the Bushmen is commonplace, and Survival is extremely alarmed by recent cases of torture, the organisation's spokeswomen Iona Singleton yesterday stated. "In one incident, 12 Bushmen were tortured by government wildlife officials over a six day period for allegedly exceeding their hunting quota. Survival has repeatedly called on the government to ensure such attacks cease."
The conflict over the Central Kalahari Game Reserve follows the lines of a classical resource conflict. The park was originally created to constitute a refuge for marginalized San of Botswana, a semi-nomadic people depending on wildlife resources and extensive land areas. New resources, especially the tourism potential and diamonds, however suddenly have increased the value of these marginal lands, leading the government to pressure its sparse San population. Hunting quotas have been lowered (protecting touristy wildlife resources) and the nomadic San are urged to settle outside potential mining areas.
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 - over extensive areas. With central governments came a constant push to settle the San or move into even more marginal areas.
Starting 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. These rations have since been lowered and a further lowering is used as pressure by the government to make the San abandon areas of potential mining.
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.
Starting today, Survival is launching a weekly vigil outside the Botswana High Commission in London to increase pressure against the government. Leading up to the UN Conference on racism to be held in South Africa in two months, the vigil will see to that European tourists wanting to visit Botswana are " fully aware of the serious situation of the country's Bushmen," according to Survival.
The loud protest by Survival and by national organisations led by the San community has already influenced public opinion in favour of San demands. Earlier this month, the De Beers Group, which is a shareholder in the Botswana Gope Exploration Company that discovered diamonds at Gope in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, distanced itself from the removals and resettlements of communities in the park.
De Beers on this background put the development of the diamond deposits on hold. Further, the company's Secretary, Ms Sheila Khama told The Botswana Gazette that should they decide to go ahead with the mining of diamonds at Gope it would never be necessary for her company to request the removal of those communities.
The Setswana Minister of Minerals and the Department of Mines, Boometswe Mokgothu, however maintains that preparations were "at an advanced stage" to open the mine at Gope and that diamond mining will start shortly.