By Sello Motseta, iOL, 09/11/2017
Lobatse – The longest-running legal battle in Botswana’s post colonial history resumed Monday with arguments against the government’s relocation of Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The Basarwa, popularly known as Bushmen, have accused the government of destroying their traditional way of life to make way for mining, which accounts for three-fourths of Botswana’s export earnings.
Backed by the British-based group Survival International, the Basarwa are trying to fight eviction from their ancestral homelands by authorities who want to exploit the vast area’s mineral and diamond potential.
The Bushmen maintain that about 1800 of them have been forced out of the reserve, about the size of Switzerland, into camps where they have contracted diseases such as HIV and Aids and tuberculosis, and have become dependent on alcohol.
The government has denied the charges, insisting that the Basarwa were removed with their consent in order to make the Central Kalahari a game reserve.
“All the people who relocated… were paid compensation for their properties and also assisted with vehicles to transport their belongings to the new settlements,” said Clifford Maribe, spokesperso for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation. He said the equivalent of nearly $1-million (about R7-million) was paid.
The government claims it held extensive consultations, starting in 1985, with the inhabitants of all the settlements in the game reserve, non-governmental groups and other interested parties.
It maintains that more than 1700 people relocated to the new settlements of their own choice, prompting others to follow.
“What the government is saying is not true. Government did not give us a chance, they told us what to do,” said Jumanda Gakelebone, spokesperson for First People of the Kalahari.
The government insists that all new Basarwa settlements are provided with drinking water and basic health care. It says it is encouraging activities like crafts among the Basarwa as a means of producing income.
The government argues the Bushmen’s continued presence is not compatible with preserving wildlife in the reserve. This accusation is vigorously denied by the Bushmen, who say that their lifestyle is based on respect for nature.
Botswana, a nation of 1,5 million people, has been held up as a model democracy for other African nations and has been ranked among the few corrupt countries on the continent in a survey by the World Economic Forum.
Since diamonds were discovered in the country in 1967, Botswana has prospered. Diamonds account for half of government revenues and three-fourths of all export earnings. – Sapa-AP