People Of The Kalahari / Roy Sesana (2005)
Roy Sesana is also known as Tobee
Tcori - his Bushman name. He is a leader of the Gana, Gwi and Bakgalagadi
'Bushmen'. As such, he is one of their most eloquent spokespeople. He was born
in a Bushman community, Molapo, in Botswana, at least 50 years ago - he
doesn't know his precise age. He spent a few years as a labourer in South
Africa before returning to the central Kalahari in 1971, to train as a
The 4,000 Gana and Gwi were
amongst the last Bushmen living on and from their own land in a largely
self-sufficient way. In 1997 and 2002, after years of harassment, the Botswana
government evicted them - and their neighbours the Bakgalagadi - from their
ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Officials closed
their borehole, poured away their water, and threatened to burn them in their
huts if they did not move. Since then, more than 200 Bushmen evaded the guards
and returned to their lands.
The Bushmen are now in miserable
resettlement camps, unable to hunt or gather and dependent on government
hand-outs and support. It is thought that the evictions were motivated by the
desire to mine diamonds on Bushmen lands. A number of concessions have already
Sesana is one of the founders of
First People of the Kalahari (FPK), which was set up in 1991 to campaign for
the Bushmen's human rights, and especially their land rights. Until then, NGOs
in Botswana had worked with Bushman communities on development projects, but
had ignored deeper issues. FPK emerged as one of the most outspoken defenders
of Bushman rights in Botswana, earning itself increasing levels of government
surveillance. Their telephones are tapped, their visitors monitored and they
are publicly vilified by the government.
It became government policy to
evict them in 1996, and many were evicted in 1997 - despite international
protests. Some of those who stayed were tortured by the government, accused of
'overhunting'. In 2004, Sesana's brother died after a beating by wildlife
Sesana became chairman of FPK in
1995 and stayed in post until 2000 when he stepped down to concentrate on
FPK's fieldwork in the Bushman communities. A combination of lack of funds and
government repression threatens the continued existence of the organisation,
but it has been successful in gaining wide international concern for their
FPK have also helped provide legal
support for the hunters who were arrested in 1999, produced a report on the
torture incident, as well as organising a mapping project of traditional
territories and communities that succeeded in getting many of them registered
as official residents in the reserve.
Since the 2002 evictions, and
despite the virtual collapse of the FPK and serious government intimidation,
Sesana has carried on his work, and is trying to encourage his colleagues to
leave the government camps, which he calls 'places of death', and go home.
Meanwhile, 248 of the Bushmen are taking the Botswana government to court in a
test case that is now symbolic of the struggle of indigenous people everywhere.
Sesana's central role in this legal action has resulted in him being
acknowledged as the unspoken leader of the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari.
The original case was dismissed on a technicality in April 2002, and the
forthcoming case is the result of an appeal to have the case re-heard on its
merits. The case is likely to be heard early in 2006. Indicative of the
seriousness of the situation facing the Bushmen is the fact that the Botswana
Government has made clear that, if it loses the case, it will change the
constitution so that it can get its way.
On 24 September, at least 21
bushmen, Roy Sesana among them, had been arrested and remanded in custody for
unlawful assembly and rioting. The group had tried to force its way into the
closed part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Sesana was allowed out on
bail on 27 September.
by Roy Sesana
The following quote is taken from
an APTN report (January 2002), which also provides background information on
the situation of the Kalahari Bushmen.
"Without land we are not
secure. The reason I am saying land is important, is that when you look at the
trees, you feel satisfied. Not because you have eaten, but because it is your
land. Without land you are like a bird that is flying from one place to
another without a nest. That is why land is important."
- Roy Sesana -
Information on the Bushmen of Southern Africa
by Survival International (Right
Livelihood Award 1989)
The Bushmen are the oldest
inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000
years. Their home is the Kalahari Desert, which is now divided between
Botswana, Namibia, Angola and South Africa.
There are many different Bushman
peoples and they have no collective name for themselves. Outsiders have also
called them 'San' or 'Basarwa', but 'Bushman' (or the plural 'Bushmen') is the
most commonly used and understood internationally. All these names have
The Bushmen speak a variety of
languages, all of which incorporate 'click' sounds represented writing by
symbols such as ! or /.
Inhospitable as the Kalahari
Desert may appear to many people, the Bushmen have adapted to the environment
and lived there for thousands of years. They hunt different types of antelope
and gather fruits, nuts, roots and wood, which they use to burn for fuel and
to build their temporary homes.
This way of life now stands
threatened as a result of a brutal history. After invasions by cattle-herding
Bantu-speaking tribes 400-500 years ago and by white colonists in the last few
centuries, followed by racist and discriminatory government policies, the
total Bushmen population has been reduced from several million to 100,000,
effectively amounting to a genocide comparable to the experience of American
Indians in the USA and Aborigines in Australia.
Today the problems the Bushmen
face vary from people to people. In South Africa, for example, the !Khomani
now have some of their land rights recognised, but many others have no land
rights at all.