Amnesty International Toronto Organization
Regional Meeting, October 16, 2004
The Bushmen of Botswana
Bushmen bring land fight to US
By Anton Ferreira
Washington - African hunter-gatherers who the Botswana government has ousted from their traditional lands brought their cause to Washington on Friday, seeking support in a battle they say revolves around diamond wealth.
Bushman elder Roy Sesana, wearing a headdress of beads and antelope horns, told a news conference the Botswana government had forced his people from their territory in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve because it wanted to make the land available for diamond mining.
"I was told this by three ministers. They told me we have to move because we cannot stay where there are mines," Sesana said through an interpreter. "I said, 'The diamonds are the remains of our ancestors'."
'The diamonds are the remains of our ancestors'
An official of the Botswana Embassy in Washington, John Moreti, who was in the audience, took issue with Sesana. "There are certainly no plans to do a diamond mine in the area," he said.
"My question is, how many Basarwa (Bushmen) does Roy represent? I think he represents one percent."
"I represent all the Bushmen," Sesana replied.
The Gaborone government has relocated about 2 500 Bushmen over the past 18 months from the desert game reserve, which is about the size of Switzerland, into resettlement camps where it says they can be better integrated into mainstream society.
The Bushmen are descended from the earliest inhabitants of southern Africa but have been driven from most of their original territory by black pastoral tribes - like the present rulers of Botswana - and white settlers.
'Our kids have been taught bad ideas'
Sesana said his people were not interested in the cattle and corn porridge the government provided in the new settlements.
"Our ancestors are buried in the game reserve. In the resettlement areas, if you get sick you don't know with whom you can communicate. That's why our death rate is so high," he said.
He said losing their traditional way of life had exposed his people to alcoholism and Aids.
"Our kids have been taught bad ideas," he said.
Sesana is touring the United States with a group of fellow Bushmen to raise money for a court case they have brought in Gaborone to fight their eviction from the game reserve.
They have met members of Congress in Washington and are due to visit the United Nations next week.