- The landmark court case against Botswana's government by evicted communities of the San people is to recommence next week. The case was adjourned in July. The San communities are fighting for their right to return to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The Gana and Gwi communities of the San people - also called "Bushmen" or "Basarwa" - are fighting for their right to maintain their extensive hunting and gathering livelihood in the desert reserve after having been evicted by the Batswana government. While authorities in Gaborone quote the need to protect the environment and to develop the San people, activists claim that the real reason behind the eviction is the reserve's potential for diamond mining and safari tourism.
The semi-nomadic San communities were urged to leave the reserve and head for government-provided settlements years ago. On 31 January 2002, the government stopped the provision of drinking water, the provision of food rations and the provision of healthcare and pensions to those settled in the Reserve. Pressure to resettle to the so-called New Xade camp increased.
The San's legal case against Batswana authorities first began in February 2002, but it was dismissed over technicalities. After the San earlier this year engaged South African lawyer Glyn Williams, the case over their land rights was resumed in July.
During the July hearings, the court was told by Dr George Silberbauer that the San indeed were the indigenous inhabitants of the extensive Central Kalahari Game Reserve. 73-year-old Dr Silberbauer is an anthropologist and was the British colonial District Commissioner of Botswana's north-western town of Gantsi. He has studied the history of the San people and is the one who motivated the creation of the Reserve in 1961 to create a refuge for the San.
The court case against Botswana's government was adjourned in late July, after being heard for several weeks in the New Xade resettlement camp and in the town of Ghanzi. It is now due to recommence on 3 November in Lobatse, the seat of Botswana's high court, according to statements from the court.
The San by far are the oldest people of Botswana and Southern Africa. 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 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.
The UK-based group Survival International, on the other hand, has gathered international support for the plight of Botswana's San. The group today celebrated the news of the resumption of what it called "the historic court case," saying it was certain the court would recognise the San's "rights to return to their land and live there without fear of further eviction, and to hunt and gather freely."
Survival quoted a member of the San community, who was not named, as saying: "The government has not done anything which proves it owns the land. We know every tree and water hole and corner of this land. Everything has a name. We know this land as you know your children. ... The old people remain behind and we send our young people to court to fight for our right to live in the world."
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