afrol News, 28 August - The Botswana government's eviction of its indigenous San (formerly called "Bushmen") community from its ancestral land in a game reserve is provoking further international protest. John E. Lange, the outgoing US Ambassador to Botswana, has now condemned the government's action. Earlier, the eviction has caused protests in the UK.
Ambassador Lange has given a speech to the Botswana Press Club, where he questioned Botswana's human rights record over its treatment of the San people. The speech was reported in the 'Botswana Gazette', one of the country's principal daily newspapers.
Lange is reported by the 'Botswana Gazette' to have recently visited the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - homeland of the Gana and Gwi San communities - and their resettlement camps outside the Reserve. I
n his speech, Lange emphasised that the San people must be allowed to choose where they want to live, and described conditions in the camps as 'unsustainable'. He offered the assistance of the United States in ensuring that the San people's right to return to their lands is met.
Earlier this year, the Batswana government cut off water supplies to the Reserve's San community; their supplies being drained into the desert. Living in the mineral rich Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the government has been urging these San communities to relocate since 1997. While government officials say relocations are "voluntary", San spokesmen speak of "intimidation", "forced relocation" and "racist oppression".
These communities of the San people are known to have lived in what is now the Reserve for thousands of years. Living by ancient hunting and gathering traditions, the San here had been largely self-sufficient. Now, less than 50 San people have withstood government pressure and keep living in the Reserve. The large Central Kalahari Game Reserve was originally created in 1961 to constitute a refuge for marginalized San people.
The large majority of the San community, however, has trickled out of the Reserve and into government camps as pressure to relocate has increased over the last five years. For the semi-nomadic San, life in the resettlement camps means they cannot hunt or gather food and are dependent on government handouts to survive. The Reserve's resources, especially the tourism potential and diamonds, have led the government to relocate its original inhabitants.
According to Survival International, a UK group "protecting the interests of tribal peoples," government methods to evict the San have included "torture", "intimidation", "oppression" and "starving" them out.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival, commented today: "International condemnation is mounting over Botswana's racist oppression of the Bushmen. Now that the American Ambassador has spoken out, the Botswana government must ask itself how much longer it can deny the Bushmen their right to live on their land in the way they choose."
The UK group has led a long campaign to draw international focus on the Batswana government's actions against its indigenous San minority. Last year, it arranged a large demonstration outside Botswana's Embassy in London. The groups' engagement has called the attention of several British and European politicians.
The case is also due to be discussed in the European Parliament. Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament's Development Committee, currently is visiting the Reserve and the relocation camps to meet with local San spokespersons and to get first hand impressions of the situation.