San want their day in Botswana court

The fate of one of southern Africa's oldest nomadic tribes, the San or Bushmen, could be sealed when the Botswana High Court hears argument on the issue of ancestral land rights.

The court case, which commences on July 5 with an in loco inspection, could decide the future of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen communities.

Two hundred and forty-eight Bushmen and Bakgalagadi adults are taking the Botswana government, including President Festus Mogae, to court over the government's forced eviction of them and their families from their ancestral land, in what could be a test case for Bushman rights across southern Africa.

The in loco inspection is supposed to visit settlements from which the San were allegedly forcibly removed from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to settlements outside the reserve.

'Expected to become farmers overnight'

The Bushmen want the government to recognise their right to return to their land and live there without fear of further eviction, and to hunt and gather freely.

The original case of forced removal from their ancestral land was dismissed on a technicality in April 2002.

However, the Bushmen appealed and won the right to have the case re-heard on its merits.

The Botswana government had initially apparently terminated all services, including water, because it claimed that it could not afford the monthly cost of Botswana pula 55 000.

The first wave of removals took place in 1997, and most of the community has since been relocated to settlements outside the park.

In exchange for their traditional hunting-gathering existence, the Botswana government claims the San have been granted title deeds to plots, a mere 40 by 40 metres, in a conservation area - the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - about the size of Belgium.

The displaced tribesmen have also allegedly been given goats and cattle.

"People as old as 80 years and older who have been hunter-gatherers all their lives were expected to become farmers overnight", a South African spokesperson for the applicants said on Monday.

But the Botswana action has drawn strident opposition from Survival International, a British organisation supporting tribal communities and their rights to their land and to decide their own future.

The organisation has been at the forefront of an awareness campaign, organising petitions across the world against the removal of the San and even suggesting that diamond prospecting could be behind the relocation.

Survival International also accuses the Botswana authorities of harassment of the San, saying they have been "tortured, beaten up or arrested for supposedly over-hunting, or hunting without correct licenses."

The Botswana government has vehemently denied these allegations, as well as that diamond prospecting was at the root of the relocation. - Sapa

Published on the Web by IOL on 2004-06-21 15:09:01

Informant: ECOTERRA Intl.


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