NEWS 2005

 

First People Of The Kalahari / Roy Sesana (2005)
Botswana

"... for resolute resistance against eviction from their ancestral lands, and for upholding the right to their traditional way of life."

 

Statement by Roy Sesana

Background on the Bushmen of Southern Africa

Photo Gallery

Biography

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 traditional healer.

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 been granted.

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 officials.

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 predicament.

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.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Statement 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 -

---------------------------------------------------------------

Background 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 pejorative origins.

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.