22 Feb 2002

Government rejects criticism of Khoisan removals

The government of Botswana has insisted that relocating a nomadic population from the large Central Kalahari Game Reserve is essential in order for them to have access to state services such as healthcare. The relocation of the Basarwa, a tribe of Khoisan nomads that had lived within the reserve for years, has come under fire from human rights NGOs, both locally and internationally.

However, Clifford Maribe, information officer with the Botswana ministry of foreign affairs told IRIN that the relocation of the population did not amount to forced removal, even though essential services to the community in the reserve had been cut. While reports had said some 560 Basarwa were still in the reserve, Maribe said his information was that there were "less than 30" now remaining. "For those who are willing to relocate there is first of all a registration process and then their property is assessed. After that they are given compensation and when they get to the places they are moving to they are allocated a piece of land with certificate of land ownership," Maribe said.

The tribes people are assisted in settling their new land and are provided with food and some temporary shelter. Maribe said: "NGO's are also assisting them in income generating activities and mentoring them, they are also given cattle and goats. "The park is a wildlife reserve and there are some services such as clinics and water that cannot be provided to them in the reserve. No permanent structures can be developed in the reserve and the tribe is scattered. Whereas outside, for example, a borehole has been drilled in new area they will be relocated to. They can now join the mainstream of society and enjoy the benefits of the services government is providing."

Contributing to the budget speech in Parliament, the leader of Opposition and Gaborone South MP Kenneth Koma has also defended government on the relocation of Basarwa from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). He said he did not understand the criticisms levelled at Botswana government when it is merely trying to develop Basarwa at an appropriate location and time.

However, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Ditshwanelo, has condemned the move. "The termination of services [in the reserve] by the government effectively forces people out of the reserve, as they will have no access to basic resources," the group said in a recent press release. "The relocation of the residents ... is unnecessary and it is in breach of the constitution and human rights of the residents." According to Ditshwanelo, the reserve was created in 1961 "specifically" for the Basarwa to practice their hunter-gatherer way of life. 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. (IRIN, DAILY NEWS ONLINE)

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