Will the UN bring relief to Botswana's San?By MTOKOZISI DUBE in Gaborone | Saturday, May 26 2012 at 16:48
One wonders whether the conflict between the Botswana Government and Basarwa (Bushmen or San) over their land rights will ever come to an end.
Despite all the global attention, it does not look like the government will budge any soon.
Not even Basarwa’s recent plea to the UN to intervene and ensure the government respects their land and resource rights seems to have shaken the government.
Instead, the government accuses ‘foreigners’, particularly the British rights lobby group, Survival International (SI), of putting the Bushmen on a pedestal to oppose a legitimately elected government.
Just last week, a government official condemned SI following their statement which alleged harassment against the native Basarwa in the Central Kgalagadi/Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
The UK based organisation was faulted for trying to justify its existence by peddling lies about Botswana and trying to dictate to the government how it should run the country.
The accusations came barely a month after an activist said the eviction of the Basarwa from the diamond-rich reserve of Gope in central Botswana was meant to aid mining, something the government had repeatedly denied.
The activist’s conclusion stemmed from the on-going mining activities at the CKGR where Gem Diamond revealed they had already used $17 million to develop its Ghagoo underground mine in a bid to produce its first diamonds from the deposits by mid-2013.
Now, Basarwa will look to the UN to bring relief to their cause and it is quite interesting that their onslaught, this time, is backed by a well packaged presentation that documents their rich history.
The presentation was made before the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recently.
They stressed the importance of having southern African governments (Botswana, South Africa and Namibia) engage in constant dialogue with them on issues affecting their livelihoods.
To buttress their claims, the Basarwa caucus included their tribesman from neighbouring South Africa and Namibia.
Job Morris, an employee of the Kuru Trust, who resides at the CKGR, made the presentation.
Morris’ presentation majorly contended against involuntary relocation.
“There should be no involuntary relocation from protected areas including national parks, game reserves, and monuments,” part of the document reads.
But Batswana’s tolerance seems to have waned.
Ms Neo Makgetho, a law scholar, reckons the engagement of the UN is all in vain.
“I think if the government takes land from people following proper channels and they properly compensate them and it is for the general good of the public then that’s good,” she said.
She hails from Maun where they were relocated for the extension of the airport a few years ago and feels Basarwa do not deserve any special treatment.
“All of us are moved for so various reasons like airport extension and extraction of minerals. Why is there special treatment for Basarwa?”
Mr Kabelo Kgaodi, a health official in Ghanzi (popularly known as the Bushmen town), believes Basarwa are combating their own progress.
But they want their old way of life – hunting and gathering across the wonderful empty expanses of the Kalahari.
“Of course they are used to that kind of lifestyle but I think the government is trying to give them access to development,” Mr Kgaodi said.
His thoughts are that the involvement of organisations like SI and the UN is the work of politicians who are trying to take advantage of the situation.
Basarwa have also made calls to southern African governments, the SADC, the African Union and the African Commission to recognise their role ‘as the stewards and custodians of the earth’.
“There’s too much politics they’ve taken advantage to fight against government,” he said.
Like Makgetho, Kgaodi said this was not the first time a tribe was relocated for purposes of development in Botswana. He added that such moves have previously benefited Batswana.
“In other areas people have been moved and government has opened mines for the benefit of Batswana.”
Farming and agriculture
But then again, the presentation reiterates Basarwa’s spiritual connection with the environment: “The San people have spiritual connections with the environment and it is our sacred duty to take care of the environment, land and the protection of the environment is central to our culture, our dignity and our existence as a people.”
The UN forum was also told that commercial cattle farming and agricultural production have become a continuous threat to the land rights of the San, adding that extractive industries cause irrevocable harm to their ancestral lands.
“We the San are known for the reverence with which we hold land and for sustainably managing and nurturing the earth since time immemorial.
“In a world threatened by climate change, the loss of biodiversity, water shortages and threats to food security for billions of people, we submit that our land use systems should be protected and supported in the legislative and policy frameworks on our continent and beyond.”
Further to that, recommendations were made that governments in the region should honour the civil liberties of the San as exemplified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), in relation to their lands.
“In relation to food security, we call for programmes aimed at promoting food security, taking into consideration diverse programs aimed at enhancing the availability of high quality food and water at the individual, household, community, and regional levels.”
In the past, Basarwa were nomadic within a particular circumference, rotating within the same limits thus allowing the land, not occupied, to ‘recover’ before returning to it.
Some people have argued that the fact that Basarwa do not have land is due to the fact that they are nomadic hence they cannot lay claim to any land, justifying government’s move to shift them.
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