|February 6, 2002
Khoisan told to move from ancestral lands
The government of Botswana has threatened to cut off water and other
essential services to the Basarwa (Khoisan) living in the Central Kalahari Game
Reserve (CKGR). The government informed the residents that it will no longer
provide any basic services such as water, food rations, the transport of
children to and from boarding schools, and the provision of health services, to
the people living inside the game reserve.
The reserve was created in 1961 "specifically" for the Basarwa to
practice their hunter-gatherer way of life, but recently the Botswana
department of wildlife and national parks said that it would no longer issue
hunting permits to the Basarwa for use within the reserve.
The government, since 1996, has been trying to persuade the Basarwa
remaining in the reserve to move to relocation camps hundreds of kilometres
away. The authorities' initial argument was that their removal would allow
better wildlife conservation. That has since changed to stress that better
services can be provided to the estimated 600-700 Basarwa in the CKGR if they
move out of the reserve.
"The government says that it is very expensive to provide services in
the reserve and accuses the Basarwa of wanting to remain in the stone age
rather than developing," a human rights activist in Botswana said. "The
government claims that those that remain are not enough to warrant the expense
of taking services there."
"The termination of services by the government effectively forces people
out of the reserve, as they will have no access to basic resources," the
Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Ditshwanelo, said in a press release. The
decision to stop the services would affect the provision of food rations, the
transport of children to and from schools and the provision of health services.
She said that the resettlement camps to which the Basarwa who chose to
move out of the CKGR were sent are "not pleasant", and some Basarwa have
returned to the game reserve. "There's not much to do there, they are not
educated and are not farmers. They are hunter-gatherers and you tend to find
they turn to alcohol because there is a lot of despair ... We are against them
being relocated," the activist said. "They should be allowed to keep their
ancestral land and have a choice over where they live."
As a reaction, Agriculture minister and Ghanzi MP Johnnie Swartz has
accused the human rights organisations of undermining the relocation of
Basarwa. Swartz said that claims that Basarwa were being ill-treated were
malicious and meant to obstruct government efforts to develop and integrate
Basarwa into mainstream Botswana society. He said it was discovered that people
could not live side by side with wild animals. The Minister said there were
positive signs that the relocation exercise would come to an end. He appealed
to the residents to encourage the reluctant to move to their newly established
settlement and ignore those who wanted to mislead them. (IRIN)