Govt, San smoke peace pipe

> Mpho Tebele

Gaborone- The Botswana Government and the San people of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) have finally buried their long standing differences.

The two parties have not been feuding for many years after the government decided to forcefully evict the Bushmen from the reserve, which they revere as their ancestral land.

This resulted in a number of court cases which resulted in some San people being allowed to return to their ancestral land but government was not under any obligation to provide services such as provision of water among other that it had terminated.

But now the government has promised to restore some of the essential services to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve that it cut on 14 years ago.

The healthcare and water services that it now says it will reinstate were shut down by the State during the brutal eviction of San people from the reserve in 2002.

The recent decision to restore services follows talks between the government and the San communities. There are reports that while some San communities welcome the decision, many fears it might be a short reprieve, as government might make a U-turn on its promises.

However, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said his ministry is committed to ensuring that the San people benefit from tourism activities in their ancestral land.

He said his ministry is currently drilling boreholes in the reserve meant to provide water for the residents and water holes for wildlife species.

Khama said that they are committed to making change for the betterment of the residents, adding that changes are not meant to dilute the culture of the Bushmen that date back from the ancient times.  However, Minister Khama said the government will not lift the hunting ban that was effected in 2014 across the country.

He added that “there is an ongoing hunting ban in the country and it applies to all Batswana. So no one will be allowed to hunt in the reserve.”

For now residents of CKGR will be allowed to participate in activities that will promote and showcase their culture, but they will not be allowed to showcase their way of lives through hunting activities.

The Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism is planning to set up tourism camps that residents will use to participate in the tourism sector.  According to the minister, the residents of CKGRA will only be allowed to take part in the running of tourism business in the reserve.

“They will be able to raise money through activities such as showcasing their culture to tourists. We have been slow on the consultation process because we didn’t want to be seen as if we are imposing things that they don’t want. So far we are happy that both parties understand each other.”

San leader Roy Sesana has also confirmed that they have agreed with the Government that they should find a long lasting solution to the people of CKGR. He said a committee comprising people from the San community and government has been set up.

But despite this latest development, Survival International, a UK based human rights advocacy group which has been fighting for the rights of San people remain sceptical.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today: “It remains to be seen whether this good news is merely a ploy to silence criticism in the run-up to Botswana’s 50th anniversary celebrations. In any case, the pledge should be seen in the wider context of President Ian Khama’ refusal to allow all Bushmen to return to the ancestral homelands from which they were illegally evicted. If he continues to violate the High Court ruling, there will be no Bushmen left in the reserve to enjoy these services in two generations’ time.”

February 2016
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