Defying Ban, Bushmen Return to Kalahari Homeland

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In the years since independence from Britain, Botswana has thrived on adventure tourism, while also becoming the world's largest diamond producer. Its 2.4-billion-dollar-a-year (U.S.) mining operations are run through a partnership between the De Beers corporation and Botswana's central government.

Most of the country's Central Kalahari Game Reserve was leased for mineral exploration not long after the Bushmen were resettled. But Maribe and others say that so far no commercially viable diamond deposits have been found.

Returnees I met in the reserve reported harassment, occasional physical abuse, and hardship.

"The government is giving us lots of troubles," said Gakeitswe Gaorapelwe, a Bushman who, along with others, has re-homesteaded the razed village of Molapo inside the reserve.

Gaorapelwe said officials have dismantled pumps on wells and let them fill with sand, forcing villagers to drive a truck 13 hours each way to fill jugs with water.

Tourist Protection

So far, the reserve's status as a natural attraction has helped the Bushmen.

According to University of Nebraska anthropologist Robert Hitchcock, a leading advocate for the tribe, the presence of freewheeling tourists has been a critical deterrent to stronger action by the government.

In April, however, Botswana announced that, starting in 2005, visitors may be allowed to tour the nation's game parks only on professionally outfitted tours.

The stated aim is conservation. Yet without potential witnesses wandering through, says Hitchcock, "This could be the death knell for the [reserve] residents and those who might wish to move back."

That means that this year could be not only the last opportunity for visitors to enjoy Botswana's famous do-it-yourself Kalahari touring, but also the final chance to witness the traditional life of the Kalahari Bushmen.

The preceding story was excerpted from a longer feature article on the Kalahari Bushmen by Tom Price that appears in the August 2004 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine.

For more African Bushman news, scroll down.

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