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Bashing the Bushmen

Material World

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently warned ‘Preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right...deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human-rights law.’

Botswana uses water as a weapon against the Kalahari bushmen in an attempt to force them from their land. The government smashed their only major water borehole, a terrible act that was only overturned in court years later. It has continued to forbid them access to wild-life water-holes and mining water supplies.

The indigenous Bushmen people (or the San or Baswara, all names having pejorative roots) have been in conflict with the Botswana government for several years. Many live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve where they have continued to be persecuted to drive them from their land. Banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter the reserve, they are now being pushed to the brink of extinction. The government policy is clearly to intimidate and frighten the Bushmen into staying in the resettlement camps, and making the lives of those who have gone back to their ancestral land impossible. The government boasts that all San in Botswana get free schooling, free medical help and if they register they receive free food. Despite government promises of a better life outside the Reserve many are now gripped by alcoholism and HIV/AIDS, previously unknown.

‘We are used to feeding ourselves – now dependant on government hand-outs, we are being made lazy and stupid,’ says Sesana. ‘Now we are being treated like dogs. The dog is the only thing that can't bring its own food home. It has to wait for its owner to give it some food.’

Goiotseone Lobelo speaks fondly of life in the reserve, where she would wake up every morning and join the women in the village in collecting berries, nuts and roots to eat. ‘I miss my home and the way we lived. Life was easy, there were lots of fruits, animals and there were no bars and no beer. Now we are lost,’ says Goiotseone. She remembers the day they were forced to leave ‘The police came, destroyed our homes and dumped us in the back of trucks with our belongings and brought us here. They dumped us here like we are nothing.’

In the early 1980s, diamonds were discovered in the reserve. Soon after, government ministers went into the reserve to tell the Bushmen living there that they would have to leave because of the diamond finds. Gem Diamonds has stated publicly that its Gope mine contains a diamond deposit worth an estimated $3.3 billion.

At the same time as preventing the Bushmen from accessing water, the government allows a safari company to operate a tourist camp in the reserve that made no provisions for the rights of the Bushmen on whose ancestral lands the camp sits. While Bushmen  struggle to find enough water to survive on their lands, tourists sip iced cocktails by the swimming pool.

Desmond Tutu has condemned the eviction of the Kalahari Bushmen. ‘The San Bushmen represent a 100,000 year-old culture that we should consider one of the world’s treasures. And while progress is necessary, it cannot be that the only way to achieve progress is to remove the San from their ancestral lands and drive their traditions away. We’ve already seen this with the American Indians, the Aborigines, and it is also happening with the Tibetans. When a culture is destroyed in the name of progress, it is not progress, it is a loss for our world. Hundreds of thousands of years of wisdom, knowledge of nature, medicines, and ways of living together, go with them’ (a plant used by the San was patented and licensed by a pharmaceutical company to produce an appetite suppressant drug for dieting).

In February this year Botswana’s President Khama was a guest at a conservationist conference, alongside Prince Charles and Prince William. Khama has banned all hunting nationwide under the pretext of clamping down on poaching. However, it emerged that trophy hunters who pay up to $8,000 to hunt giraffes and zebras are still being allowed to hunt on private ranches that have been exempted from the ban. Yet Bushmen who hunt with spears, bows and arrows are being arrested, beaten and jailed for subsistence hunting.

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said ‘Banning hunting in order to feed your family, but allowing the wealthy to hunt for trophies, plays to a lobby still rooted in racist beliefs about tribal peoples’ inferiority. The national park movement entailed the enforced eviction, often the complete destruction, of the tribes who lived off the land. Satellite imagery now proves that many tribal peoples are the world’s best conservationists, yet they’re still being destroyed. It’s not ‘conservation’; it’s just an old colonial crime, and it’s time the responsible organizations opposed it. Instead, they hide behind hollow policies, while continuing to support governments guilty of such inhuman behaviour.’

ALJO