September 23, 2002

European MP Tables Question On Basarwa

A member of the European Parliament has joined the campaign to support the return of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) by asking the European Union (EU) to review its funding to Botswana.

Since 1997, the government has moved hundreds of Bushmen from Molapo and Old Xade to camps in Kaudwane and New Xade. About 50 have remained in the reserve, refusing to leave, and their water supplies have been cut off. Lobbyists believe they have been relocated to protect diamond mining rights in the reserve from possible claims, but the government says it was done to provide better facilities to the communities.

Richard Howitt, a member of the EU's development committee, recently visited the Basarwa, as they are known in Botswana, and on his return tabled a parliamentary question. He asked whether Botswana had or would use EU development assistance for the resettlement of the Basarwa, in the light of evidence that they had been forcibly removed. He also asked the Commission whether it accepted that this was in contradiction to its own 1998 Working Paper on Indigenous Peoples, and if it would review this issue and consider providing help for alternative development to enable them to remain on their ancestral lands. He also called on the EU to provide funds to help secure a sustainable future and remove the threat of resettlement.

"The point of the question is that [EU] funding not be used to fund forced resettlement of the Kalahari Bushmen, it should be used to help them stay on their ancestral land," Howitt told IRIN. "The Botswana government says development can only take place if there is resettlement. On my visit there I heard plans for sustainable livelihoods within the desert and we are asking them to find the funds," he said. "I'm not critical of the Botswana government. I think they are a good government and they are doing brilliant stuff with HIV/AIDS. But I'm strongly of the opinion that they have got it wrong with the resettlement of the Bushmen. I'm convinced that the Bushmen want to stay [in the CKGR], on their ancestral land. I have deliberately not asked for the funding to Botswana to be suspended as I believe it's better to bring the two sides together and to have constructive dialogue," Howitt said.

Mathambo Ngakaeaja, coordinator of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities of Southern Africa told IRIN it was essential that the government re-established water supplies to people remaining in the reserve. "At the moment people are re-using water - they are using the same water for cooking, then for washing the pots, then for watering the dogs. It is a human crisis," he said. A number of people were recently reported to be trying to return to the reserve, in defiance of government orders. (IRIN)


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