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Whither Botswana ?

Bushmen less insulting than Basarwa - Corry

"The government seems to be reluctant to accept the reality that the Bushmen of the CKGR challenged and defeated it in court over its controversial policy to relocate them."

At the risk of being declared the father of all the "unpatriotic" citizens of Botswana, this week I join those who believe the Botswana government is making a grave error in continuing to downplay the dangers posed by Survival International's worldwide campaign against the country's diamond and tourism industries. In particular, I express my unashamed understanding of Survival International's campaign. In the face of the countless and unflattering descriptions of Survival by various Botswana Democratic Party governments, readers will, no doubt, understand the seriousness of the risk I am taking today.

I take this huge risk because having myself actively campaigned in various ways against violations of human rights committed by the former apartheid governments of South Africa, or those of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe since 2000, I see nothing wrong in Survival's campaign against the inconsiderate treatment of the country's marginalised population of 'Bushmen' by the government of Botswana. And as the organisation's secretary-general, Stephen Corry, explained in an article in the November 4 edition of Mmegi, Survival is campaigning against Botswana because "human rights are everyone's business, yours and mine." He made this valid comment in response to those in this country who accuse Survival of interfering in Botswana's affairs. 

I use the term 'Bushmen' today (and not my usual 'Basarwa') owing to the following comment by the secretary-general of Survival International in the Mmegi article quoted above: "As we have made clear so many times, there is no good name for these peoples, and they often tell us they find 'Bushmen' less insulting than 'Basarwa'". 

Coming from an authority such as Survival, which has championed the rights of indigenous peoples around the world for almost as long as Botswana has existed as an independent state, who am I to question the validity of Corry's comment?  On the contrary, I regard it as so significant as to warrant my using only the term 'Bushmen' from now on, unless I receive objections from the Bushmen themselves.  No doubt, this will result in my being labelled by Botswana government authorities as having a 'colonial mentality', being 'pro-apartheid' or even a 'racist' - labels that are already weighing down Survival International.

The attitude of our respective governments towards the country's Bushmen population must be the main attraction for Survival's hostile campaigns against the current government. In particular, the dismissive and often insulting manner in which our governments regard the demands of the Bushmen for recognition, respect and assistance as indigenous peoples with inalienable rights to their ancestral lands and ways of life has been unfortunate over the years.

I recall a government minister dismissing the whole concept of indigenous peoples some years ago, and asserting the then government's view that all the natives of Botswana were indigenous to the country. Similarly, different Botswana authorities have variously described the ways of life of the country's Bushmen's as 'primitive' or belonging to the 'Dark Ages' or the 'Stone Age'. The hurt that this must cause the Bushmen never seems to matter to such authorities.

Also extremely disappointing in this regard is the stubborn refusal by the government to be magnanimous and provide water to the residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). I say the government should be magnanimous because the 1996 (?) judgment in the case between the Bushmen of the CKGR and the government clearly concluded that the latter was not obliged to provide water to the former, as they had argued in court. However, it is an undeniable fact that there is a borehole in the CKGR that the residents used before the government relocated them from the Reserve to New Xade. The borehole was subsequently dismantled.  Why is it so difficult for the government to re-equip the borehole for the sake of the Bushmen who returned to the Reserve after winning the historic court case?

Could it be that the authorities were so embarrassed and outraged by the outcome of the CKGR case that they adopted the hard-line attitude that they would teach the CKGR residents a lesson and deny them water for legalistic reasons? Or could it be a thinly veiled attempt by the authorities to demonstrate to the residents that it is not really worth insisting on their land and cultural rights instead of accepting the government's view that they would be much better off enjoying a 'more civilised' life outside the CKGR in accordance with the government's policy?

It is difficult, of course, to say for certain what drives the government's policy in this regard. However, I have a strong suspicion that the above considerations are the most likely to be driving the government's attitude towards providing water to the Bushmen living in the CKGR. 

The government seems to be reluctant to accept the reality that the Bushmen of the CKGR challenged and defeated it in court over its controversial policy to relocate them. In the meantime, the abovementioned legalistic approach is leading to the intensification of Survival International's campaign against the government, which the latter continues to dismiss with contempt.

The government would do well to recall how successive apartheid governments disregarded similar campaigns against them at their peril.

DAN MOABI. Mmegionline 26th November, 2010.