NEWS 2005


Court to decide on inspecting reserve for diamond exploration

  Survival International

The San have been fighting a long court battle to live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

GABORONE, 21 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The Botswana High Court is to consider an application to have a settlement in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) inspected, to determine whether the government is conducting diamond mining in the area.

State attorney Sidney Pilane's application, filed in response to affidavits by 243 San Bushmen claiming that the government has been carrying out diamond exploration at the Gope settlement in the reserve, will be heard on 2 August.

The hearing is part of ongoing court proceedings arising from an application by the San to overturn a government decision to resettle them outside the CKGR, a place they consider to be their ancestral land.

Pilane's application was also in response to claims by Arthur Albertson, a South African ecologist who gave evidence for the San alleging that mining operations existed at Gope.

The state attorney did not rule out the existence of prospecting operations in the game reserve and said explorations for diamonds, gold, copper, oil and uranium were taking place all over the country.

He told the court that government had the responsibility of searching for and exploiting natural resources anywhere in the country for the benefit of the country. "If found, such natural resources will be exploited, and we are not apologetic about the future prospecting in any game reserve," he said.

In January 2002 the government terminated the provision of water, food and health services to the small San communities living in the CKGR, arguing that it had become prohibitively expensive, as the communities were scattered across the reserve.

The San, the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, took the Botswana government to court in April 2002, seeking an order to declare illegal the government's decision to terminate the provision of basic and essential services to those who had refused to leave the CKGR.

Instead, the government created the New Xade and Kaudwane settlements just outside the CKGR, and set aside the game reserve for wildlife and tourism development.

Last week a former official of the department of wildlife and national parks, Joseph Matlhare, told the court in Lobatse, 60 km south of the capital, Gaborone, that the government had wanted to safeguard its relocation programme against sabotage and had made it mandatory to obtain a special permit to carry water into the reserve.

Matlhare, a state witness, was the director of the department that had to issue water permits after the government came up with the controversial plan of relocating the San in 2002.

When the applicants' attorney, Gordon Bennet, wanted to know what happened when tourists visited the reserve, Matlhare said they were expected to bring enough water for their consumption.

"Those who wanted services had to leave the CKGR; the CKGR residents were aware that all services would be terminated," said Matlhare.

He also justified the rationale behind the withdrawal of special hunting licences from the San who remained in the game reserve, which were then given to those who had relocated, saying this was "part of government's efforts to stop services inside the reserve".