afrol News, 13 September - Botswana police have set up a roadblock to stop Gana and Gwi San peoples ("Bushmen") who are trying to return to their ancestral land. The government's eviction of the San peoples from their homeland inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is causing increased international outrage.
Earlier this year, the government cut off water supplies to the indigenous San people of Botswana (formerly called 'Bushmen') their supplies drained into the desert. Living in the mineral rich Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the government has been urging the San communities to relocate since 1997. While government officials say relocations are "voluntary", San spokesmen speak of "intimidation", "forced relocation" and "racist oppression".
Survival-International, a UK-based group protecting the interest of "tribal people", yesterday reported about a police road block at the entrance of the Central Kalahari "to stop Bushmen who are trying to return to their land." Police had also "confiscated vehicles" the San were using to return to their homeland inside the Game Reserve.
- The blockade gives the lie to government attempts to portray the relocations as voluntary, a Survival communiqué said. An anonymous member of the San community was quoted saying "Now we are being harassed day and night and life in New Xade is becoming unbearable." New Xade is the largest relocation camp of the San community, outside the Reserve.
The roadblock had also coincided with a visit by Local Government Minister Margaret Nasha to New Xade, where she had "harangued" the relocated San. Ms Nasha told them that they were "free to go back" to the Game Reserve, but the government would "not encourage" them to do so. At that moment, however, police had already established the blockade.
The Gana and Gwi communities of the San people are known to have lived on these lands 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 majority, however, has trickled out of the Reserve and into government camps as pressure to relocate has increased over the last five years. According to Survival, government methods to evict the San have included "torture", "intimidation", "oppression" and "starving" them out. For the semi-nomadic San, life in the "bleak resettlement camps" means they cannot hunt or gather food and are dependent on government handouts to survive.
The large Central Kalahari Game Reserve was originally created in 1961 to constitute a refuge for marginalized San people. New resources, especially the tourism potential and diamonds, however suddenly have increased the value of these marginal lands, leading the government to relocate the original inhabitants.
Only last week, a delegation of British parliamentarians went to Botswana to meat government officials to discuss the forced relocation. The MPs presented their protests to the Batswana government.
In August, John E. Lange, the outgoing US Ambassador to Botswana, condemned the eviction of the San in a speech. His speech, quoted in the in the 'Botswana Gazette', questioned Botswana's human rights record over its treatment of the minority. Mr Lange had visited the Reserve and described conditions in the camps as "unsustainable".
Also Members of the European Parliament have labelled the Batswana government's treatment of the San "an abuse of human rights and the international conventions on indigenous peoples."