- The Gana and Gwi tribes of Botswana's aboriginal San people are to challenge their forced eviction from the Kalahari Game Reserve in court in July. They had been forced to resettle from their ancestral lands as diamonds were found in the Reserve. The court case may become a test case for San ("Bushman") rights across southern Africa.
According to Survival International, a UK-based group defending the San people's right to stay in the Reserve, the announced court case against Botswana's government "could decide the future of the Gana and Gwi."
A total of 248 affected San are taking Botswana to court over the government's forced eviction of them and their families from their ancestral land. The traditionalist hunters and gatherers are the first people known to have settled in Botswana and the establishment of the barren Central Kalahari Game Reserve by the British colonial rule was partly motivated by the need to protect one of the San's last refuges in the region.
The Gana and Gwi were originally evicted from the park for environmental reasons, according to the Gaborone government, eager to enhance tourism in the reserve. Batswana authorities claimed the San - traditionally known as "Bushmen" - were exhausting the desert Reserves' wildlife resources and offered "voluntary resettlement" to designated sites outside the park's borders.
It however turned out that resettlement was far from voluntary as San tribesmen were forcefully hindered returning to the Reserve. Batswana authorities further enhanced the eviction by cutting water and electricity supply to camp sites used by the San within the Reserve. San communities in the new settlements have complained over lacking livelihood means and of becoming totally dependent of government handouts.
Investigations by Survival also have confirmed that other than environmentalist and tourism interest were behind the decision to evict the San from their traditional lands. The UK group has documented the parcelling of diamond concessions in the Reserve, which is located close to other diamond producing localities. Diamonds are among Botswana's main foreign currency earners.
The San communities - with assistance of national and foreign rights groups - originally filed a court case against the government of Botswana more than two years ago. The original case was however was dismissed on a technicality in April 2002. The San activists since that appealed and won the right to have the case re-heard on its merits.
The new court case against the government will begin on 4 July with an "inspection in loco" of the resettlement centres and of the San communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to which nearly 200 Bushmen have returned despite government opposition.
- Fearing that their voices will not be heard, as has been the case in previous government-led tours, the [San] are calling for observers from the local and international media to observe the 'inspection', Survival appealed in a statement today.
The San communities want the Batswana government to "recognise their rights to return to their land and live there without fear of further eviction, and to hunt and gather freely," the UK group explains.
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