Bitter dispute over
BBC News, Botswana
24 November 2005, 18:11 GMT
|Molatwe Mokalake, an old
man probably in his 70s, is still seething with anger three weeks
after he was forced out of his home village, Molapo.
He is now staying in the village of New
Xade, a village close to the boundary of the vast Central Kalahari
Game Reserve, in Botswana's harsh and dry bush country.
Dust blows across the streets, as he
sits in a small kraal, surrounded by his family.
"It felt like a war against
us", he says.
Bushmen children are in danger of
forgetting their ancestors' culture
"The police came
with guns. They did not allow the women to collect firewood, and
we were not allowed to bring water from outside the reserve. This
went on for two weeks. We felt frightened, and we did not come
here of our own free will."
which surround New Xade are heavily over-grazed. Donkeys, goats and
dogs spend the day huddled under the few thorn trees, trying to
shelter from the fierce Kalahari sun.
The houses are mostly small and drab,
but New Xade does boast a new clinic, creche and primary school.
" We don't force around our
people, and we believe in consultation"
Government spokesman Clifford Maribe
This unremarkable place is at the
centre of a bitter ideological dispute, between bushman activists and the
The government is encouraging the
bushmen to move out of the game reserve and settle in New Xade.
|It says it can provide them
with better social amenities here, while ensuring that the reserve
remains a pristine wilderness.
The government accuses outsiders, and
in particular the British lobby group, Survival International, of
romanticising the bushmen, and of inciting them to oppose a
democratically elected government.
Spokesman Clifford Maribe insists the
authorities will not use force against the bushmen.
Molatwe Mokalake says he was forced
to leave his home
"Those are false
reports intended to raise emotions and make the government look
bad," he says.
|"The government of
Botswana has a responsibility to all citizens - we don't force around
our people, and we believe in consultation."
The authorities also deny persistent
reports that the government is interested in prospecting for diamonds
in the Game Reserve.
" The police came and told us
they had permission to shoot us "
But it is clear that some of the
bushmen in New Xade have been intimidated and are not happy to have left the
"The police came and told us
they had permission to shoot us," says Gakeitumele, Mr Mokalake's
|"They took my animals,
and they lifted me into the truck to bring me here. But I will go back
to Molapo whatever happens".
About a dozen bushmen were listening to
our conversation. I asked them whether they preferred living in New
Xade, or in the villages where they were born, inside the reserve.
Without hesitation, they all
replied that they had been happier in the reserve.
Some said that in the reserve they
were closer to their ancestors. Others complained that the move to New Xade
has brought them nothing except HIV/Aids and alcoholism.
It is difficult to judge how
representative these opinions are, because I was being shown around New Xade
by activists from an organisation called First People of the Kalahari who are
challenging government policy.
The fate of Molatwe, Gakeitumele
and all the other bushmen who would like to return to their ancestral lands
will ultimately be decided in court; the well-publicised case between the
Botswana government and First People of the Kalahari is due to resume early
The government argues that the
bushmen have already abandoned many aspects of their traditional way of life:
the bushmen today have livestock, and they use horses, spears, dogs and even
guns to hunt wild animals.
And the fight over the land is
only one aspect of a wider struggle for the bushmen's survival.
Preserving a culture
Two hours drive to the north of
New Xade is the village of D'Kar, where bushmen elders, and missionaries from
Europe and South Africa, are doing their best to keep bushman or San culture
Bushmen perform a traditional
healing dance, shuffling round and round in circles, chanting and clapping
their hands in rhythm.
|Children join in, first
watching how the elders move, and then imitating them with difficulty.
While some of the children are enjoying
the dance, others appear embarrassed, and choose not to join in.
In a nearby classroom, Tcega Fritz is
teaching his particular bushmen dialect, Naro, to a group of children.
Teachers like Tcega Fritz are helping
to save Bushmen languages from extinction
To the outsider, Naro consists of
a bewildering array of 28 almost indistinguishable clicks.
But Tcega is an engaging teacher
and the children are enthusiastic.
Whereas some bushmen languages are
only spoken by about 1,000 people, Naro is comparatively healthy; there are
some 10,000 Naro speakers in northern Botswana.
"Our world is changing so
fast, and sometimes it seems our culture is dying, so we need to use our
language to keep our culture alive" says Tcega.
He is fighting to preserve that
which can be preserved. But the old way of life, hunting and gathering across
the wonderful empty expanses of the Kalahari, has gone forever.