Botswana San win case

The court has said the Bushmen ‘ or Basarwa/San people ‘ were wrongly evicted from their ancestral homeland in 2002.

On Wednesday during an eight-hour long judgement a panel of three judges ruled by two-to-one in their favour in the major issues in the case.

In a telephonic interview, spokesperson of the Bushmen Jumanda Gakelebone said from Botswana that they considered their victory as a Christmas gift and that some of them had already started trekking back to the desert where they lead nomadic gatherer-hunter lives, making them the last kind of group in Africa.

“We are very proud about this issue; we have been given back our land and our hunting rights. We are proud and consider this our Christmas gift,” said an excited Gakelebone.

Asked how they would cope in a desert where government had stopped providing social services such as the supply of clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, schools and other amenities, he said that could not bother them.

“Man that does not bother us, as Bushmen we have lived like that for hundreds of years, we don’t care about that. Some of our people have started going back and within two days houses will be in place,” said Gakelebone.

After the court session that was broadcast live on Botswana TV (BTV) leading litigant Roy Sesana, emerged from court wearing traditional headdress and smiling broadly.

More than 1,000 San were evicted four years ago which the court found to be “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

The Bushmen are the oldest people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Crowds of them reportedly trekked overland to the court in the town of Lobatse to wait for the verdict, which was interpreted to them.

The case was the longest and most expensive in Botswana’s history.

The Bushmen had argued that the government of Botswana acted illegally when it cut off their water supplies and drove them from the central Kalahari game reserve.

Presiding judge Maruping Dibotelo said: “Prior to January 31, 2002, the applicants were in possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve). The applicants were deprived of such possessions forcibly or wrongly and without their consent. The government’s subsequent refusal to allow the bushmen a permit to return to their land was “unlawful and unconstitutional,” he added.

According to press reports from Botswana government lawyers said an appeal against the verdict was an option, but at this stage the authorities would abide by the judgement.

The San people brought their case forward after being moved to functional but bleak settlements outside the Kalahari game reserve, where a new way of life was imposed.

They said ever since they moved they were exposed to alcohol abuse and disease like HIV and AIDS.

The government argued that the Bushmen did not belong to the Kalahari any more because their lifestyle had changed, and their presence interfered with conservation.

The reserve was a poverty trap that denied them access to health and education and that the Bushmen were better off in the settlements, where they had clinics and schools along with better access to food and water.

They also denied allegations that the Bushmen were driven out to make way for diamond mining.

While Survival International a UK NGO has been in the forefront in fighting for the Bushmen’s rights, there was constant pressure from many sections.

“We have already seen this with the American Indians, the Aborigines, and it also happened with Tibetans. When a culture is destroyed in the name of progress, it is not progress. It a loss for our world,” said Nobel Peace Award winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in his message posted to the website of the Bushmen

“Humankind cares about the future of the San Bushmen. The Botswana Government has always shown that it cares for its people and we pray that this may continue to be the case,” added Tutu.

December 2006
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