- The court case of the San (so-called "Bushmen") communities, challenging their eviction from Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve, has finally resumed. They claim that the termination of water and food services to them in the Reserve by the Botswana government in January 2002 was "unlawful and unconstitutional".
The court is to sit at Ghanzi, a town in north-western Botswana, close to the Reserve. While the case started in Gaborone, the capital, yesterday, legal teams have already left for the Reserve to inspect the San's ancient settlements, including Old Xade. From here, they will head to the relocation camps outside the Reserve, including the infamous New Xade site.
The San's case against Batswana authorities began in February 2002, but it was dismissed over technicalities. After the San engaged South African lawyer Glyn Williams, the case over their land rights this week finally has resumed.
The case however goes further back. Roy Sesana, a strongly profiled spokesman of the San in Botswana, told the independent daily 'Mmegi' in an interview on Friday said he had been lobbying the case of the San communities in Central Kalahari Game Reserve since Botswana's first President, Seretse Khama, was in power.
First, the San had demanded proper supply of government services, equal to those of other Setswana, to their remote settlements in the park. With Botswana's changing governments, however, the Reserve's tourism and mining potential became more emphasised and it was decided that services to the San were best provided in new, more accessible settlements outside the Reserve.
On 31 January 2002, the government stopped the provision of drinking water, the provision of food rations to the registered destitutes and orphaned children, the provision of transport for children to and from school and the provision of healthcare and pensions to those settled in the Reserve. Pressure to resettle to New Xade increased.
For the traditional San communities, many still making their living as hunters and gatherers in the Kalahari's harsh environment, their resettlement to New Xade has been described as a social disaster. Here, activists say, the San communities are left to depend on government handouts without any possibility of earning their living. Alcoholism and diseases are reported to have become widespread.
- The problem of the Basarwa [as the San are called in Botswana] is that they have been pushed out of the fat areas of Botswana, Mr Sesana told 'Mmegi'. "And now they are being pushed out of the place where they found refuge. They are being told to leave and go to places where they will certainly perish together with their culture."
The San are the oldest people of Botswana and Southern Africa at large. During history, they have been pushed back from the majority of lands by later arriving peoples, including the Khoi (so-called "Hottentots"), Bantu peoples and Europeans. In Botswana, British colonial authorities in the 1950s tried to mend some of these historic errors by establishing the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, with special rights for the San communities living there.
As Batswana authorities have pushed these San communities to leave also the Reserve and thus giving up on their traditional culture, national and international human rights organisations have become engaged in their case. In Botswana, the San activists protesting the eviction from the Reserve count on the support from Ditshwanelo, a Gaborone-based centre for human rights.
Ditshwanelo, in a recent statement, holds that the Batswana government's "development" arguments for resettling the San are misled. "For development to be effective, it must be people-centred," the groups says, adding that "development should be more than the provision of roads, clinics and schools."
The San communities also have a more controversial supporter, the UK-based group Survival International, which has been termed a "terrorist" group by the Batswana government. While Survival's actionist strategies have been highly controversial in Botswana, the British group has achieved international attention for the San's case.
International media have sent crews to cover the case and are currently joining the court's legal teams on the inspection tours. Also a group of British MPs have recently visited the New Xade resettlement camp and an action group for the San has been established in the British parliament. Stephen Corry, director of Survival, yesterday compared the San's case to "the British 'buying' the land of Canadian Indians for 700 blankets in 1850," saying both cases "bring shame on Britain."
Whether Survival will be let to participate in the ongoing court case is still unsure, as the group is currently banned from entering Botswana. Nevertheless, international attention and firm support from Ditshwanelo have put the San in a far better position than in February 2002, when the court case first began. If the San are successful in their case, it would, in effect, amount to government recognition of their rights of the residents to reside in the Reserve.
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