Rights Groups Respond to Botswana Bushmen Being Blocked From Going Home Despite High Court Victory

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Three human rights groups - The Indigenous Land Rights Fund, Diamonds for Africa Fund and First people of the Kalahari - all reported last week that last Tuesday, January 2nd, the Botswana Government defied its own High Court's ruling and refused to allow the San, or Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, or CKGR.

The CKGR court case - the longest and most expensive in Botswana's history, was brought by the displaced San Bushmen in 2002, when they were forcibly removed from the reserve, created for them in the 1960s and which anthropologists claim they have inhabited for at least 40,000 years. The removals were accompanied by beatings and the destruction of water sources.

Three human rights groups - The Indigenous Land Rights Fund, Diamonds for Africa Fund and First people of the Kalahari - all reported last week that last Tuesday, January 2nd, the Botswana Government defied its own High Court's ruling and refused to allow the San, or Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, or CKGR. Specifically, report the three groups, the Bushmen tried to leave the resettlement camps, known as 'places of death' , and go home as per the Botswana Hiigh Court's ruling,on December 13th of last year (Botswana High Court, Misca #52/2002 Roy Sesana v. Attorney General). But, reported Jumanda Gakelobone, a one of about 100 Bushmen attempting to return to his ancestral lands, "we were stopped at the reserve gate, and our women and children denied entry."

Rupert Isaacson, director of The Indigenous Land Rights Fund, one of several groups advocating for the dispossessed Bushmen, gave the following background: "The CKGR court case - the longest and most expensive in Botswana's history, was brought by the displaced San Bushmen in 2002, when they were forcibly removed from the reserve, created for them in the 1960s and which anthropologists claim they have inhabited for at least 40,000 years. The removals were accompanied by beatings and the destruction of water sources."

By contrast, the Botswana government claimed it was resettling the people to 'offer them development'. However, Botswana's president, Festus Mogae also asserted that the Bushmen would 'perish like the dodo' if they did not fall in line with his policies. A few months after the forced removals, beatings and the destruction of the peoples' water supplies, two thirds of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve were given over to diamond mining concessions, mostly to De Beers and BHP Billiton, and making Botswana's diamonds (the country produces 80% of the world's gem grade diamonds) the world's newest conflict diamond zone, according to Isaacson.

While in the camps the San suffered an unnaturally high death rate, exceeding 10% of the population of 3500 people, with AIDS, sexual abuse, violent assault and alcoholism replacing the peaceful traditional culture of hunting and gathering and healing through the use of trance and plant medicines, according to Isaacson.

Despite all this, the San Bushmen found support abroad and - on December 13th last year - won a landmark victory when Botswana's High Court decided that the government's removal of the people against their will was both illegal and unconstitutional, and that all the people removed from the CKGR could return home forthwith.

However, when the San Bushmen tried to go back to the reserve on January 3rd, Jumanda Gakelobone, one of the San Bushmen in the returning party, reported that "In spite of the ruling, the wildlife scouts would not let wives and children of Bushman applicants, who won the court case, go in to the reserve.

"We are all angry and surprised that people were turned away at the gate. We are asking why can we not go back to our lands as the court says? Many applicants in our court case have died. How much longer do we have to wait to go home? We say to the government please please respect the law and the court ruling and just let us go home."

Rupert Isaacson, of the Indigenous Land Rights Fund (http://www.landrightsfund.org), said, Wednesday; "That the Botswana Government would be prepared to let women and children be stranded in the waterless desert shows that it has lost none of its determinedness to destroy the San people. They have cynically waited until media attention had moved on from the court victory and committed an act that is both brutal and illegal. Botswana is supposed to be a beacon of democracy within Africa. Sadly it is degenerating into just another conflict diamond state."

The San Bushmen want to reach out to the world's principal consumers of Botswana's gem-grade diamonds - the American hip-hop industry, whose appetite for 'bling' is legendary - especially as credible reports of diamond drilling within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have been filtering out since Nov 8th, 2006.

In a heated appeal Jumanda Gakelobone said: "We appeal to the consumers of diamonds in the USA - especially our black brothers and sisters in the hip hop industry - to Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, and all the other musicians that are household names to help us. We know you love our diamonds. But look what they are doing to us! If you are going to wear stones for which we have lost our homes, then at least help us pressure our government to let us go home. Please don't let us perish for your 'bling."

For more information please go to: http://www.landrightsfund.org, http://www.diamondsforafricafund.org, http://www.survival-international.org

Or contact the Indigenous Land Rights Fund director Rupert Isaacson at info (at) diamondsforafricafund.org, or call 512 294 1561

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