- President Festus Mogae has met with mixed reactions after his recent surprise visit to the New Xade resettlement camp for some of Botswana's San ("Bushmen") aboriginal people. These San communities are currently fighting President Mogae's government in court over their expulsion from their ancestral land.
The Batswana President in a surprising move last week personally visited the controversial New Xade resettlement camp to speak with representatives of the San communities living there and see for himself the conditions in the camp. President Mogae entered New Xade with a reconciliatory approach.
In a short speech to the San community, the Head of State urged his resettled citizens to accept their new home and stop the attempts to return to their old lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, where they had lived as hunters and gatherers. Explaining his visit to the San communities, President Mogae told them: "I am your father and I have come to check up on my children."
He ended his visit by distributing food, clothing and blankets to the needing population of the resettlement camp. While the gesture of the Head of State was appreciated by several members of the San community, there were also critical voices. On man who wanted to remain anonymous said the visit "is just bribery." He referred to the upcoming court case against the Mogae government.
Strong voices among the San that previously lived in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve hold they were illegally expelled from their ancestral land. While the Batswana government holds that the Reserve's San community left voluntarily, San representatives claim they were blackmailed into leaving and have since been prevented from re-entering their ancient lands.
San organisations with international support are now suing the Batswana government over their right to return to their land. In three weeks, the case is due to come up in a Gaborone court. These groups hold that President Mogae was "pre-judging the court's ruling" by his visit to New Xade and point to the fact that the President was accompanied by Sidney Pilane, the lawyer acting for the government in the case.
Also Survival International, a UK-based group that has been strongly involved in promoting the San's case, today issued a statement strongly condemning President Mogae's visit to New Xade. "To pretend that this visit is not a blatant attempt to influence the court case ... is just naïve," commented Stephen Corry, director of Survival.
- The irony is that the President's handouts actually reinforce the state of dependency the [San] have been reduced to, he said. "These hunter-gatherers are no longer allowed to hunt and have been turned by the government into beggars and prostitutes," Mr Corry added.
Survival holds that President Mogae's actions were in keeping with what the group calls "his prevailing attitude, that the Bushmen are to be stripped of their ability to lead lives outside of government control." Mr Corry added: "To call this 'development' is just a mockery. It's an appalling 21st century echo of how indigenous peoples in North America were once robbed of their lands in exchange for a few blankets."
The group also claims that the Batswana President's visit to the San communities in New Xade was an attempt to influence the upcoming visit of a group of British parliamentarians to the resettlement camp. Ten British MPs are to study the situation in New Xade at the end of June after Survival has lobbied for the San's case in the London parliament for several years.
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