Monday, May 28, 2007


Three stories of the ongoing tribulations of the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana


It has been estimated that the so-called Bushmen of the Kalahari have lived in southern Africa for at least 20,000 years, but that cuts no ice with the zealots hell-bent on the development of capitalism in that part of the world.

"The Bushmen of the Kalahari – among Africa’s last indigenous peoples – are on the verge of losing their ancestral homeland after the Government of Botswana stepped up a campaign to force them into squalid resettlement camps" (Times, 12 September). The government has sent heavily armed wildlife guards into the Central Kalahari Game reserve – an area that had been promised to the Bushmen "in perpetuity". Their aim is to remove some 200 to 250 Gana and Gwi who have returned there from the resettlement camps. The Times report continues: "Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which has been highlighting the Bushmen’s plight, said: ‘The Government seems hell-bent on finishing them off this time. The situation is very urgent. Unless circumstances change through outside intervention, this could very well be the end of these particular people’".

The plight of the Gana and Gwi people is by no means unique. The development of capitalism crushes all the tribal societies it comes into contact with. In the past we have had the slaughter of the native Americans in the USA, the butchery of the Australian aborigines and more recently of the Yanomami in Northern Brazil. The concept of a tribal society that lives by gathering and hunting with no recourse to capitalism’s markets is anathema to a property-based social system.

The Botswana government has destroyed the tribal wells and banned hunting in its efforts to restrict tribal groups. The growth of farming and diamond mining probably lie behind the government’s recent actions. Some government ministers have hinted that the evictions are needed because deposits of diamonds have been found in the area, although the state diamond company, which is an offshoot of De Beers claim they are uneconomic to mine. "However, De Beers does not rule out mining them at a later date."

The development of capitalism in Africa must crush tribal communities just as it did in Europe and America . The only hope for a communal life-style is not a return to primitive tribal society, but the transformation of present day private property, profit-producing society into the new social system of world socialism.


January 2007 , Bushmen began returning to their ancestral lands inside Botswana's largest game reserve this weekend, despite what their supporters describe as a heavy police presence and attempts to persuade them to stay in relocation camps. The Bushmen have lived in southern Africa for more than 20,000 years and are thought by some experts to be one of the oldest--if not the oldest--people on the planet, in genetic terms.

Basarwa tribesmen, also known as Bushmen, won a court order in December allowing them to return to land in the massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which, at 52,800 square kilometers, is larger than the nations of Denmark and Switzerland.In its ruling, Botswana's High Court called the government's eviction of the Basarwa "unlawful and unconstitutional" and said that they had the right to live on their ancestral land inside the reserve. The court also ruled that the Basarwa who live in Botswana have the right to hunt and gather in the reserve . But the harassment continues - the government continues to dispute the Bushmen's return, maintaining that only the 189 people who filed the lawsuit would be given automatic right of return with their children--well short of the 50,000 Basarwa who live in Botswana, 2,000 of whom say they want to go home. And officials also argue that tribesmen cannot take along domestic animals or other items that have become necessities for these descendants of hunter-gatherers.

According to Survival International, government officials forced nearly all of the Bushmen to leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in three separate events in 1997, 2002, and 2005. Their homes were dismantled, their school and health center were closed, and their water supply was destroyed. Botswana's government has sought to evict the local tribesman numerous times over the last 20 years, ostensibly to promote tourism and protect wildlife in the area, although many believe the main reason has more to do with diamond mining aspirations.

Life in relocation camps outside the reserve has been especially difficult for the Bushmen, Survival says. Rarely able to hunt, they have been dependent on government handouts while their society has become gripped by alcoholism, boredom, depression, and illnesses such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS .

"The government has given various different reasons for the evictions," Survival International's Ross told OneWorld. "The government said it's for the people's own good--that they can't live hunting and gathering in this day and age, that they need to become civilized. The president said if the Bushmen want to survive they'll have to change or they'll perish like the Dodo. They've also said it's because the game reserve is for animals and that the Bushmen are a danger to animals.What Survival believes is that the Bushmen were evicted because there were diamonds found under their land in the early 1980s,"

Ross said. "There isn't mining in the reserve at the moment but we believe the government wanted to get the Bushmen out of the way so future diamond mining could take place."
Ross noted much of Botswana's foreign exchange comes from partnerships with diamond companies like DeBeers.

"DeBeers has a concession in the Kalahari Game Reserve," she said, "so it has the right to explore for diamonds in the reserve. I would ask the government to explain that."


The leader of the San Bushmen met British lawmakers in London on Wednesday in a bid to drum up support for his people's struggle to return to their land in the Kalahari desert in Botswana.
In December 2006, a court in Botswana's southern city of Lobatse ruled that hundreds of San Bushmen were wrongly forced out from the Kalahari Game Reserve after a marathon legal battle. The Bushmen maintain they were driven out of the Kalahari when vital supplies were cut off in order to make way for diamond mining -- a claim the world's top diamond producer has denied.
But despite the court victory, the Botswana government is trying to prevent them returning to their land, claimed Survival International, a London-based non-governmental organisation supporting tribal people. In addition, the attorney general has said that only Bushmen named in the court case can return, Survival said. Despite the court ruling that the evictions were illegal, the government has refused to help the Bushmen make the long journey home. It has also banned the Bushmen from taking their small herds of goats back to their land. Since the court ruling, Bushman hunters have been arrested, beaten and held for days without food.

The government of Botswana has set down conditions for travel to the country by a UN human-rights spokesperson in what critics say is part of a concerted campaign to cover up the state's shoddy treatment of the San Bushmen. The government invoked a special clause of the constitution in requiring the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Mexican Rodolfo Stavenhagen, to get a visa to visit Botswana, said Survival International, the British-based human rights group. Most visitors to Botswana merely require a visa stamp in their passport on entry to the country. The same restrictions were imposed in March on 17 individuals including four Survival staff, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson and other journalists and human rights activists, most of whom had taken an interest in the eviction of the Kalahari Bushmen .

Sesana said , 'We Bushmen won our court case, and this made us feel strong again. But now the President is ignoring Botswana's own court. I am asking people in Britain to please help us, because people are dying in the places where we have been forced to live.'
Sesana will also go to Downing Street to deliver a letter from the Bushmen to Tony Blair expressing their dismay at the British government's support for the evictions.

About 100,000 San live in the region: 50,000 in Botswana, 4,500 in South Africa, 38,000 in Namibia, 1,600 in Zambia and 1,200 in Zimbabwe, according to the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA), based in the Namibian capital of Windhoek.

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