Bushmen Driven From Ancestral Lands in Botswana

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
April 16, 2003

Few are left of the many San who once roamed southern Africa, for a period believed to go back at least 20,000 years. Their sad fate has recently been brought starkly to mind by a furore that has erupted over the removal of two small remaining communities from Botswana's sprawling Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

San, or Bushmen, are collectively known as Basarwa in Botswana. The two affected tribes, which at last government count in 2001 came to 1,645 individuals, are called the Gana and the Gwi.

The Botswana government's explanation for moving them is that it wishes to ensure the park's integrity as a nature reserve, and that it wishes to integrate the San into the country's social and economic life.

The removals started in 1997, and most of the community has since been relocated to settlements outside the park. In exchange for their traditional hunting-gathering existence, the Botswana government says they have been granted title deeds to the land apportioned to them, and they have been given goats and cattle.

An extensive explanatory document from the Botswana government says the uprooted San are provided with schools, water supplies, and health services. A fund has been set up to provide them with training and start-up facilities for small-scale enterprises. The intention, the government says, is to bring their standard of living "up to the level obtaining in the rest of the country as well as to avoid land-use conflicts in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, such as allowing permanent settlement, growing of crops and rearing of livestock inside the reserve which is not compatible with preserving wildlife resources."

The government said it wanted to integrate the communities into "the mainstream society without any detriment to their unique culture and tradition".

Strident Opposition

But the Botswana action has drawn strident opposition from Survival International, a UK-based organization supporting tribal communities and their rights to their land and to decide their own future. Survival says all the government's actions have made clear its contempt for the San and its tendency to regard them as inferior. It quotes a San woman as having told the organization: "They treat us like this because of our race. The government knows we are very small people and there is no way we can cry for help."

Survival has organized petitions in several parts of the world against the removal of the San and handed these to Botswana's embassies in the United States, Japan, Europe and Africa.

The San relocation case has featured in newspapers and on BBC television.

In a report released in August last year, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the dispossession of their land and prejudicial actions against the San.

There have been several court actions. One such case opposing their exclusion from the park has misfired. Now a second, brought in the name of a few San steadfastly refusing to move out of the park, is headed for Botswana's high court.

Continued on Next Page >>


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