NEWS 2005

 

Alternative Nobel Prize for imprisoned leader of the San in Botswana is "a resounding slap in the face" for discriminating policies concerning indigenous peoples

Alternative Nobel Prize for imprisoned leader of the San in Botswana

Göttingen, 29. September 2005

As "a resounding slap in the face for the government of Botswana and its discriminating policies concerning indigenous peoples” the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) declared the announced bestowal of the Alternative Nobel Prize on the most outstanding representative of the indigenous people of the San, Roy Sesana, this Thursday in Stockholm. The 76-year old medicine man and chairperson of the human rights organisation "First people of the Kalahari” founded in 1992 has for years been tirelessly drawing attention to the expulsion of the bush people from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. "For Botswana’s government the decoration of Public Enemy No.1 is most inconvenient in the light of the fact that they had just arrested and imprisoned him and 20 supporters at the weekend when he protested against the forcible resettlement of the San” said the GfbV correspondent Ulrich Delius. "We hope that the prize-winner will now be set free, that the authorities in Botswana will no longer criminalize the indigenous people and that the San who have been driven out of the Kalahari will be able to return to their homeland.”

The decoration is also important outside Botswana because it draws attention to the battle for survival of the indigenous peoples of Africa. It also pays honour to their enormous efforts to join together in organisations demanding an end to their discrimination. The building up of self-help organisations by the indigenous peoples of Botswana since the beginning of the nineties is exemplary and would have been unthinkable without the deep involvement of Sesana.

Sesana caused a stir throughout the world on his visits to the USA and Great Britain in the year 2004, when he gave information in the US Congress, before the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations in New York and before Indian partner organisations on the background to the expulsion of the San. Sesana, who belongs to the sub-group of the Gana and Gwi, sees the projected extraction of diamonds as the main reason for the compulsory resettlement of the San from the Kalahari. The reason given by the authorities for the resettlement is the projected improvement in the living conditions of the indigenous people, who have never been asked if they wanted to move and if so, where to. So the expulsion of the San is also an expression of the general contempt for the bush people of Botswana, who now number some 49,000 and who are treated as "second class” people.

The San have been living as hunter-gatherers for about 30,000 years in the Kalahari. When the authorities in the year 2002 cut off the electricity and water supplies to the remaining approximately 2,200 bush people with the object of driving them out, Sesan appealed to the Supreme Court. To the present day no decision has been made in his case. The case was recently postponed until February 2006.

It was only yesterday that the GfbV asked 3000 of its members to join in an Email campaign for the release of Sesana. They also appealed to the President of Botswana to permit the return at last of the bush people who had been forcibly resettled from the Kalahari game park. For more than 15 years the GfbV has been campaigning for an end to the discrimination of the indigenous people of Botswana.

Quotations of Roy Sesana (Chairperson of "First People of the Kalahari")

"We want to return home and to be able to decide on our own future ourselves."

"Before we were resettled our people reached a high age. Now there are new illnesses and the number of people who have died in the refugee camps is high.”

"We are not allowed to bury our dead on the land of our ancestors. Instead we have to bury them near the resettlement camps.”

"There are no development projects for us – only a plan to destroy the culture of the bush people and to clear the land for the diamond miners, especially for the De Beers company.”

"My brother belongs to those who were killed in the battle for the rights of our people. Four years ago he died from the blows and the torture of the security forces.” (Quotation from October 2004)

"Of course the conditions of our life are changing, but we want to control what is happening - we want to decide ourselves whether mining should take place and what should be done with the profit.”

"Resettlement means the end of the bush people.”

"I am angry. We want to return to the land because it is our land, the land of our ancestors.”

"Our government says that we would retain our way of life, which has been passed down for many generations, but they are destroying our culture. There is an old saying that a nation without culture is dead. We are dying.”

"We are treated as second-class citizens: we are not like other people, who can use all their rights and have their own language. Our language is not taught in the schools – that is inhuman and degrading.”