Basarwa in Public War
Posted to the web September 27, 2005
With the case
in which Basarwa want the court to confirm their land rights in the Central
Kalahari Game Reserve having adjourned, the parties to the dispute are engaged
in a public relations war.
weekend's aborted demonstration by representatives of the First People of the
Kalahari, the British-based NGO, Survival International, yesterday posted a
statement on the internet in which it alleges "a full-scale crackdown on
leaders of the Bushmen organisation - First People of the Kalahari have been
arrested and imprisoned. They were among a group of 28 Bushmen, including
seven children, who were seized by police as they tried to enter their
ancestral homeland, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve," Survival
International's statement says. "Their fate is now uncertain."
International says with the reserve sealed off, all hunting banned, Basarwa's
radio transmitters confiscated, no water allowed in and armed wildlife guards
in "every Bushmen community" those still holding out in the reserve
have little means of survival.
message sent by the Bushmen in the reserve read, 'They are firing over our
heads, they are beating us, we don't know if we can hold out'. The government
has banned journalists from entering the reserve. A group of Americans probing
allegations of repression in the reserve, including the Chair of Human Rights
Watch, report that they were followed, questioned, intimidated and harassed
for three days by Wildlife Department officials, and finally escorted out of
the reserve by armed guards. This repression is the culmination of the
government's crackdown on all Bushmen resistance to their forced relocation.
It comes despite the fact that the court case to establish whether the
Bushmen's eviction was lawful is still going on," the statement says.
with a quotation attributed to Rafael Runco, who is identified as Chair of
Survival International: "Botswana's government seems to have gone totally
off the rails. Faced with criticism from all quarters, it's simply lasing out
at the easiest targets - the Bushmen who it has been persecuting for so long.
What it is doing now is coming perilously close to genocide - a systematic
attempt to destroy an ethnic group."
On the same
days, President Festus Mogae's press secretary Jeff Ramsay circulated another
statement that reports the same incident from government's perspective.
statement says "a small number of people, instigated and incited by Roy
Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone, held a demonstration at New Xade" with
intent to force their way into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
demonstration in New Xade was lawful and their right, hence the police allowed
it to proceed. Despite an intensive house to house campaign in New Xade by Roy
Sesana and his friends over many days, the demonstration largely failed
insofar as it attracted no more than 35, including 7 children, out of the more
than 2000 residents of New Xade.
unlawful and the police could not allow was an attempt by the demonstrators to
forcibly enter the Game Reserve. The police spent a considerable amount of
time warning the demonstrators that their attempt to force their entry into
the Reserve was unlawful, appealing to them to return to New Xade. Through all
this, the demonstrators, who carried placards and had radical messages written
on their six 4 x 4 vehicles, were unremittingly hurling insults and verbal
abuse at the police. They also displayed threatening behaviour towards the
police. Many times they attempted to break through the roadblock manned by the
police and drive into the Reserve," Ramsay's statement says.
It says the
police "exercised patience and great restraint through all the
provocation, repeatedly warning the demonstrators that their activities were
illegal and urged them to cease them and return to New Xade".
police would not let them enter the Reserve, the demonstrators broke into a
riot and attacked the police with an assortment of weapons.
to maintain law and order, the police were forced to fire three rubber bullets,
one of which hit and slightly injured one of the demonstrators. The
demonstrators, including Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone, fled into the bush,
but all were intercepted and arrested," the statement says.
volunteers information that the spectacle was witnessed by Sidney Pilane, the
Special Advisor to the President, Thebeyame Tsimako, the Acting Commissioner
of Police, and Jan Broekhuis, the Assistant Director for Parks. It is stated
that the three "are satisfied that the police acted with restraint in the
face of continued and severe provocation and tolerated the unlawful activities
of the demonstrators for as long as they could after endlessly pleading with
them to desist".
position of the government on this matter is a simple one: While the events of
Saturday last are a matter for regret, all are subject to the law and will
obey it, including FPK and their friends, local and foreign. The country has
recently experienced acts of unlawful filming in the country by foreign
journalists, and that will not be countenanced in the future. The issues
whether the Basarwa have a right to uncontrolled entry into the reserve, to
permanent residence in villages in it, to hunting within it, to keeping
livestock and to cultivating land inside the reserve, and to government
providing them with social and relief services within the reserve are
currently pending a decision of the High Court, having been taken there by a
group of Basarwa. Those Basarwa must, therefore, await that decision and not
take the law into their own hands by pressing these rights, for that is not
only unlawful, it also undermines the authority of the very Court to which
they have gone to seek relief. The government will, as always before, honour
the decision of the court, whatever it may be. Applicants in the court case
must remember that that decision is delayed with every adjournment they seek
to afford them time to raise funds. Until the court gives its judgment on the
matter, the government will continue to do its duty to enforce the law as it
understands it to be. Unlawful activity by FPK and their friends, local and
foreign, will not, whatever the excuse for it, be tolerated," Ramsay's