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)

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