Amnesty International Toronto Organization

Regional Meeting, October 16, 2004


The Bushmen of Botswana


 Botswana land claim case to resume


July 25 2004 at 12:30PM         


By Rodrick Mukumbira


Ghanzi, Botswana - A hearing into a landmark suit by Botswana's Bushmen seeking to return to their ancestral land in the Kalahari desert resumes Monday after a shaky start with their star witness agreeing that the state was right in relocating them.


The hearing resumes in the town of Ghanzi with the lawyers for the San Bushmen expected to press their case that their alleged forced eviction from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve went against a fundamental right - that of land.


Roy Sesana, spokesperson of the 243 San who have taken the Botswana government to court challenging their relocation from the reserve, an area they have been calling home for the past 20 000 years, said access to ancestral land was crucial for them.



'Land is the first building block of one's culture'

"Land makes the person what he is. Land is the first building block of one's culture," Sesana said. "It is what one does with the land that defines his identity and connects him to his past, to his ancestors."


The court hearing began on July 12 at New Xade, a settlement built outside the reserve to house the relocated Bushmen.


The key witness for the Bushmen, Australian George Silberbauer, who was commissioner for the district under British colonial rule, testified before the Botswana high court that he helped create the reserve in 1961 to protect the San.


But under cross-examination by government lawyers, he admitted there were some shortcomings in his survey on the Bushmen and finally ended up saying that the state's decision to relocate them was correct.


London-based Survival International, which has been waging a 30-year campaign in support of the rights of the San, maintains that they were driven out of the Kalahari to make way for diamond mining, a claim the government has denied.


A former British colony called Bechuanaland, Botswana is among the world's largest producers of diamonds, which contribute 70 percent of its hard currency earnings.


The San took the government to court in April 2002, seeking an order declaring it illegal to cut off services to the Kalahari reserve but the case was dismissed on a technicality.


Last month, the Bushmen won the right to have their claim heard again before the Botswana high court.


Once numbering millions, there are roughly 100 000 San left in southern Africa with almost half of those - 48 000 - in Botswana. Others are spread across Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to rights groups.


The state claims that there are now only 17 Bushmen living in the reserve but rights groups say 200 have gone back in defiance of Gaborone's campaign to resettle them outside.


Motsamai Mpho, the founder of Botswana's opposition politics and a confidante of the country's first head of state Seretse Khama accused President Festus Mogae's government of backtracking on policies on the welfare of the Bushmen conceived since independence in 1965.


"At the time of his death in 1980, Khama was planning to build a school and drill a borehole for the Basarwa at Old Xade and this is what Mogae has dismantled," Mpho said.


But state counsel Sidney Pilane, who cross-examined Silberbauer on Thursday, said the purpose of creating the game reserve was to keep the San Bushmen away from the white settlers who were migrating to Ghanzi in northwest Botswana.


Bishop Theophilus Naledi of the Anglican Church in Botswana said the controversy surrounding the relocation of the Bushmen was largely due to the government's failure to exhaust all channels of dialogue and enlighten them on the benefits of this move.


"This relocation programme places a check on their traditional hunting and gathering way of life and they don't understand why this is happening," Naledi said. - Sapa-AFP