African Bushmen Tour U.S. to Fund Fight for Land

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
September 14, 2004

The worlds of the wild and vast grasslands of southern Africa's Kalahari region and the manicured mansions of Beverly Hills couldn't be much further apart.

So Roy Sesana should be forgiven for looking a little bewildered as he took the stage at an Amnesty International fundraiser. Wearing an animal skin, he had come to tell a glitzy Hollywood crowd gathered at musician Jackson Browne's Beverly Hills home about the plight of his Bushmen people.

"I stand before you as a refugee," the 75-year-old San Bushman said through his interpreter, fellow Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone. "Our people have been evicted from our land. I am begging for your help."

It was a star-studded start to a monthlong journey across the United States. The Bushmen hope to raise funds for a court battle against their eviction by the Botswana government from ancestral lands in the Kalahari Game Reserve.

The tour was organized by Rupert Isaacson, a journalist who was born to white Africans but grew up in London. He says loss of that land could mean the end of the Bushmen in Botswana.

"We can't stand by and let these people be destroyed," Isaacson said. He has spent much of the last decade with the Bushmen and has written a book about it, The Healing Land: A Kalahari Journey.


The Bushmen may be the oldest human culture on Earth, with some scientists suggesting that it dates back a hundred thousand years. For tens of thousands of years, the Bushmen populated all of sub-Saharan Africa before settling in the southern region.

Then, perhaps as early as 2,000 years ago, African Bantu warriors arrived from elsewhere on the continent and pushed the Bushmen out of much of the lush southern region.

Extermination of the Bushmen by white invaders began centuries ago. By the 20th century the Bushmen survived only in the dry Kalahari region.

Today there are an estimated hundred thousand Bushmen left in the Kalahari, which stretches across South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Most work on other people's cattle ranches or eke out a meager existence in shantytowns and resettlement camps.

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