- Botswana's President, Festus Mogae, has now confirmed that the controversial eviction of the San people (so-called "Bushmen") from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve i permanent. Earlier, the Batswana government had claimed the San were free to return whenever they wanted.
As President Mogae was in the UK this week to meet with British government officials, he was met by protesters from the human rights group Survival International, which has been campaigning for Botswana's San people for years.
President Mogae told one of these protesters that the San groups Gana and Gwi, who have been forced off their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, will not be allowed to go home. He declared, according to Survival: "The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is for animals, not people."
A group of peaceful protesters met the President outside University College, Oxford, where he was having lunch during his visit to the UK. When asked by a student if the San people would be allowed to go back to their homes in the Reserve, he replied: "No, no, no, they won't." The encounter was video taped and the video has been passed to Survival.
- This statement by President Mogae appears to pre-judge the ongoing court case bring brought by the [San people] to be allowed to go home, Survival said in a statement today. "It also contradicts numerous assurances by Ministers that the [San] are free to return to the Reserve, and have not been forced out against their will."
The San groups Gana and Gwi - which are the aboriginal inhabitants of the Reserve created for them by the British ex-colonial power in the 1960s - have struggled for years not to be evicted from their traditional lands. The extensive Reserve provides hunting and gathering resources for this marginalised people.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve however has increased its value during the last decades as Botswana's tourism and diamond industries are booming. Officially, the government is citing environmental reasons for wanting to reduce its human population. The San people, government holds, were over-exploiting the park's game resource, thus threatening its potential for tourism.
During Survival's campaign to protect the San people, however, the group got hold of government documents showing the entire Reserve had been parcelled out for diamond explorations. Government, now labelling Survival a "terrorist group", still denies evicting the San people for the sake of diamond exploration.
Meanwhile, the Reserve's semi-nomadic San societies saw their water supplies cut off and were forced to resettle in camps outside the Reserve. Deprived of their hunting and gathering grounds, Survival reports these communities now are caught in apathy. Despite government assurances the San were free to return to the Reserve, individuals trying to return had been physically denied access to the Reserve.
In Oxford, meanwhile, the group finally got in touch with the Batswana President. There, a representative of the college students handed President Mogae a letter which declares: "The eviction of tribal peoples from their land, and their forced assimilation into an alien society is intolerable. ... Those Bushmen who wish to return to their land should be allowed to do so."
In Gaborone, a trial is currently going on to test whether the eviction of the San people had been lawful. Lawyers representing the Gana and Gwi communities demand they be given the right to return home.
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