- During the ongoing High Court proceedings in Botswana's New Xade settlement, where the San people (also known as "Bushmen" or Basarwa) fight their eviction from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the creator of the Reserve yesterday gave evidence. The British ex-colonial officer testified that the San people indeed were indigenous to the Reserve, which was established in 1961.
An anthropologist and former District Commissioner of Botswana's north-western town of Gantsi, Dr George Silberbauer, has said the San are the indigenous inhabitants of the expansive Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Giving evidence before the High Court, the 73-year-old retired academic said San have told him that they have always lived in the Reserve and did not originate from any other place.
The former Monarsh University scholar has extensive experience with the San people of Botswana and is the one who motivated the creation of the game reserve on 24 February 1961. On 5 April 1960, he made a confidential report to the Resident Commissioner mooting the establishment of the reserve.
He said the Reserve was meant to protect San from encroachers and to preserve the animal and plant life upon which they depended. "The principal objective was to provide a haven for hunters and gatherers and the animals and other resources on which they depended," he told the Court.
Dr Silberbauer parried away a counter argument from the government to the effect that the Reserve was created to stop San from troubling white farmers in Gantsi. However, he acknowledged that there was a problem of migrant San who squatted on Gantsi farms especially during the dry season, looking for water. But this was not 'the main motivation' for creating the game reserve.
He said the colonial government did not want San resident in the reserve to be disturbed, hence anybody who wished to enter the Central Kalahari Game Reserve required a permit. San residents in the Reserve were free to hunt throughout the year and boreholes were to be drilled to provide them with water.
On the other hand, San had a choice to adopt a different lifestyle if they wished. The court wondered how that could happen if they lived alone in the Reserve. Dr Silberbauer replied that teachers were to be brought in and the San could develop game products as an initial step.
Dr Silberbauer once worked as a "Bushman surveyor" for the colonial government between 1958 and 1967. He is the author of a book, 'Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert'. He said the only other group that has lived in the Reserve are the Bakgalagadi, whom he said moved in around 400 years ago.
He dismissed as incorrect a counter argument that San did not enter the Reserve out of choice, but that they were pushed in by more dominant groups. There is a school of thought that argues that the San people migrated into the reserve due to a southward push by the Bantu groups (mainly Batswana) and a northern push by Europeans. Dr Silberbauer said though the choice of such an arid and sandy habitat by San was surprising, it was not a unique case in history as there are similar experiences in Australia.
He said during his nine-year "Bushman survey", he studied the San people's social, cultural, demographic and linguistic aspects. He said during the time, he discovered that the San are not comfortable with sustained questioning as happens in a court of law.
The Botswana government camp will bring in their own anthropologist, Dr Masakazu Osaki from Japan, to rebut some of Dr Silberbauer's claims. Another expert to come from the government camp will be Dr Kathleen Alexander, a local ecologist.
When he takes to the witness stand, Dr Osaki will argue that the Bantu pushed the San towards the Reserve as they moved south in the 15th century. Dr Silberbauer argues that the Bantu came 500 years earlier than the time suggested by Dr Osaki.
He maintains that at his time of residence in Botswana, San were independent and were not dominated by other groups. He argues that the San people had no chiefs but were only organised in bands. Their leadership was not by succession but rotational. One person could be a leader in one aspect of life like hunting and another in constructing a shelter.
Today, Sidney Pilane will cross-examine the witness. The case continues up to Friday. It is attended by Botswana Cabinet Ministers Moeng Pheto, Margaret Nasha, Gladys Kokorwe and Pelonomi Venson. Botswana Police Commissioner Edwin Batshu also attended yesterday.
In other news regarding the ongoing High Court case in New Xade, a Botswana government spokesman said yesterday that if it loses the court case, government would "change the law, or amend the constitution, to get its way." The "senior government source" was quoted in the UK's 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper.
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