- Despite winning their right to return home after a long-fought court battle, the San are not being allowed back in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve in the Kalahari Desert, according to an advocacy group. In December, a Botswana High Court ruled that the San, also known as "Bushmen", had been wrongfully evicted from their ancestral homeland in the reserve in 2002.
"Two weeks after the court ruling, a group comprising 20 of us went to the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve to build some huts so we could move in with our families, but we were stopped by the park officials, who told us that they had not been authorised to let us in," said Jumanda Gakelebone, a former resident of the reserve and spokesman for the First People of the Kalahari (FPK), an advocacy group for the San community.
The Batswana government intended setting aside the protected area for wildlife and tourism development and began relocating the San outside the Reserve in 1997. Rights groups claimed that the San community was forcibly removed from their ancestral land to make way for diamond exploration in the reserve.
Activists thus assisted 244 former San residents of the reserve to mount a legal challenge to the government eviction in 2002. The government has maintained that the emphasis has always been on persuasion and voluntary relocation, something the Lobatse High Court found not to be true in its December 2006 ruling.
"We are all angry and surprised that people were turned away at the gate. We are asking, 'why can we not go back to our lands as the court says?' We are very worried and sad. We have been separated from our land and ancestors' graves for too long. Many applicants in our court case have died. How much longer do we have to wait to go home?" asked Mr Gakelebone.
Queries made by the UN media 'IRIN' were referred to the office of Botswana's attorney-general, where no official was available for comment. Mr Gakelebone said they were meeting with officials from the reserve on Thursday to raise their concerns.
The landmark judgment in favour of the San, which ruled that the government had acted "unconstitutionally" and "unlawfully", was hailed as a model for other legal challenges being mounted by indigenous communities removed from their ancestral land in other countries.
The Kalahari Desert park is a reserve about the size of Switzerland, created in the last days of British colonial rule before Botswana's independence in 1966, in which the San were guaranteed continued occupation of land their ancestors had lived on for thousands of years. The continued livelihood of the San people was given special emphasis in the creation of the reserve.
Shortly after the court announced its ruling in favour of the San, the government of Botswana said it would not file an appeal and comply with the court's orders. Nevertheless, government spokesmen mad it clear that they would not make it easy for the San to return to the reserve and generally ruled out the possibility of returning services such as water supply to those settling in the reserve.
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