NEWS 2005

 

BOTSWANA GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS INTIMIDATE AND HARASS
AMERICAN VISITORS TO CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE,
STEP UP VIOLENCE AGAINST BUSHMEN INSIDE THE RESERVE

 

Last week (14th of September), a party of American tourists on safari in Botswana’s Central Kalahari
Game Reserve – currently the scene of a dispute between government, who want all San Bushmen residents to leave, and the San themselves, who are protesting the forced eviction – were followed, questioned, intimidated and harassed by Wildlife Department officials and others. The party was followed for three days by government vehicles, had their camp invaded at 4 am, were subjected to questioning and were finally escorted out of the reserve by armed officials. The American party included such high profile people as Gloria Steinem, Abby Disney, Rebecca Adamson of First
Peoples Worldwide, Rupert Isaacson of the Indigenous Land Rights Fund, Jane Olsen, Ellie and Alexa Friedman, Jennifer Buffet and others. It is worth noting that two Gana Bushmen – Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone, both of who have been very active in resisting the evictions of their people for whom the reserve was founded in 1961, were guiding the party.

This is the first time that American tourists have been intimidated and harasses inside a Botswana game reserve. The incident was registered with the American Embassy in Botswana and with the State Department in Washington DC.

Group facilitator Jumanda Gakelebone was then subjected to a rash of death threats upon return to
his home in Ghanzi – some by phone and one in person, in front of witnesses, by a member of the Botswana police force: “we will hunt you, f...k you and kill you”, said the officer. Mr Gakelebone - recently nominated for a Nobel Peace prize - duly registered a complaint at Ghanzi police station.

Meanwhile, in the Bushman settlements inside the reserve, government intimidation and violence
against the remaining residents holding out until the court case between their community and the government is decided, has been stepped up. On the 15th September all the community radios, both inside and outside the reserve were confiscated by police. The last messages transcribed read: “They are firing over our heads, they are beating us, we don’t know if we can hold out.”

Some days later, personnel of Botswana’s Special Support Group (or SSG - the para-military wing of
the police force) arrested two Gana Bushmen inside the reserve for alleged illegal hunting. After being
released from Ghanzi police station, prior to appearing before the magistrate of sentencing, both men said they had been badly beaten. One had lost the use of his right arm. Both said that while being
driven out of the reserve they had witnessed villagers being beaten by SSG, police and wildlife department officials.

The Bushmen holding out inside the reserve since the forced evictions of 2002 now have no food or water, have armed units camped out in their villagers, have no way of communicating with the outside world, may not see their lawyer (who was recently denied a permit to go and see them), and are in dire circumstances. Botswana is in the grip of a bad drought: the old people, children and pregnant women inside the reserve can be expected to die within the next couple of weeks. Botswana appears to be on the eve of its first genocide.



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