Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Botswana bushmen fear for future

LOSING FIGHT Despite winning a court battle enabling them to return to their homelands, the bushmen believe government restrictions will make it impossible to exist


Two Basarwa women shelter from the scorching sun in Metsiamenong, a remote village in the heart of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana, on Friday.


The Bushmen of Botswana fear for their future, whether they return to ancestral lands in a national park or stay on the desolate reserves where they were forced to move.

Basarwa tribesmen, also known as Bushmen, won a court order last month allowing them to return to land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve from which the government had expelled them. Government officials, though, say the tribesmen can't take along domestic animals or other items that have become necessities for these descendants of hunter-gatherers.

"They also said they would determine amounts of water we take in," said Keratwaemang Kekailwe, one of the 189 Basarwa who filed suit.

In September 2005, he and 22 other Basarwa were prevented from re-entering the reserve by Botswana police firing rubber bullets. Now he lives in an isolated resettlement camp known as Kaudwane.

President Festus Mogae last week asked the Basarwa to stay where they are until he speaks to them tomorrow in New Xade, another of the camps, about the way forward after the judgment.

"He will also listen to what people have to say," presidential spokesman Jeff Ramsay said on Sunday.

Backed by the British based group Survival International, the Basarwa fought the longest running legal battle in Botswana's postcolonial history to return to the reserve.

The verdict by the Botswana High Court that the government's eviction of the Bushmen was "unlawful and unconstitutional" was hailed as a victory for indigenous peoples around the world.

The court also ruled that the Bushmen have the right to hunt and gather in the reserve, and should not have to apply for permits to enter.

The government has said that only the 189 people who filed the lawsuit would be given automatic right of return with their children -- short of the 2,000 the Basarwa say want to go home.

Along with the restrictions on domestic animals and water, they will also not be allowed to build permanent structures. Hunters will have to apply for special permits.

The government shut the main well in 2002 and water resources are scarce.

It's as if the US Supreme Court had ruled Hopi tribespeople could make their homes in the Grand Canyon, and the US government said any that took the opportunity would have to live there as their ancestors had a millennium ago.

The Botswana government argues it must protect the reserve as a national tourism resource. But Joram Useb, from the organization Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa, said the Bushmen should be allowed to take their domestic animals in and there were similar projects in Kenya and Tanzania involving indigenous people that could be studied and applied to Botswana.

"A buffer zone could be established so the domestic animals don't mix with the wild ones," he said, adding the Bushmen should be able to develop an economy for themselves through tourism and other initiatives.

Robert Thornton, a cultural anthropologist at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, said the court victory established "that indigenous cultural rights and land access should be protected."

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