January 5, 2007

San barred from ancestral land despite court victory

Despite winning their right to return home after a long-fought court battle, the San are not being allowed back in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), in the Kalahari Desert, according to an advocacy group. In December 2006 the High Court of Botswana ruled that the San, also known as the Bushmen, had been wrongfully evicted from their ancestral homeland in the CKGR in 2002.
Officials of the Botswana department of wildlife would not let the wives and children of the applicants enter the reserve, the rights organisation representing them said. "We were all surprised, angry and sad that our people were turned away at the gate on Sunday, December 31," Jumanda Gajelegone, spokesperson for the organisation First People of the Kalahari (FPK) noted. However, an urgent meeting was held afterwards between representatives of FPK and the regional wildlife officials near the reserve. "We explained the significance of the court case victory to the officials and that the judges had ruled we could all return to live and hunt on our land," Gajelegone stressed. "They promised that they would not chase us away again."
The landmark judgment in favour of the San, which ruled that the government had acted "unconstitutionally" and "unlawfully", was hailed as a model for other legal challenges being mounted by indigenous communities removed from their ancestral land in other countries.
The CKGR is a reserve about the size of Switzerland, created in the last days of British colonial rule before Botswana's independence in 1966, in which the San were guaranteed continued occupation of land their ancestors had lived on for thousands of years. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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