April 22, 2002

Basarwa lose court bid for land

The Basarwa hunter gatherers may have lost the first round of their court bid to remain in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but they still have another chance to fight their removal, one of their lawyers said on Monday, April 22.

The Basarwa, also known as the San, are contesting their removal from the reserve - their ancestral land and burial grounds - to resettlement camps. They also want their hunting rights back. They suffered a blow to their campaign on Friday, April 19, when they lost their case on a technicality. However, the judge had given them permission to appeal, lawyer Glyn Williams said. He said that one of the technicalities centered around whether the person leading the court bid, Roy Sesana of the First People of the Kalahari (FPK), had had the contents of the English affidavit explained in his language.

A further technicality was that an annexure had not been certified by a commissioner of oaths. Williams said about 250 adults were part of the court application and about 50 or 60 "diehards" were remaining on the land although their basic services had been cut off. The exact number of Basarwa who were affected was not known, but estimated to be about 700, he added. Williams said the government maintained that it was costing too much to provide the Basarwa with the services they needed in the reserve. But, he claimed: "We can prove that it costs more to run the resettlement centres." If a decision to continue the court action was taken, a priority would be to secure adequate funding, between 100,000 and 200,000 Botswana Pula (US $15,100 to US $30,200), Williams told IRIN.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, said in a statement: "This is one of the most important cases in Botswana's history. For the government to have it thrown out of court on what amounts to technicalities, just makes a mockery of justice. The government doesn't want to develop the Bushmen, it wants to destroy them." Survival International spokesman Stefan Tobler said the people remaining in the reserve already had their water pump dismantled by officials. He said people relocated to the west and southeast of central Kalahari were battling to hunt because there were too many people living in a small area. "There is no work for them and they are in the middle of nowhere," said Tobler. Alice Mogwe, director of the Ditshwanelo Human Rights Centre in Botswana, which is instructing the legal team, said a decision on how to proceed would be taken later this week. (IRIN)

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