So why does the Government think we cannot live with the animals now?
Bushmen plead to escape 'place of death'
November 15, 2004
A Bushman teaches his son to hunt with a bow and arrow.
Southern Africa's Bushmen are making a last-ditch legal plea to go back to their ancestral lands in the Kalahari. Fred Bridgland reports from Johannesburg.Gakeolate Keilwe, an African Bushman, was born about 60 years ago in the centre of the Kalahari Desert in the time, he said, of "the smallpox, the locusts and Hitler". His birthplace, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, was given to the Bushmen in 1961 by the British colonial government of Bechuanaland, an act reaffirmed at independence five years later by the first president of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama. Now, however, Gakeolate and his fellow Bushmen, the original inhabitants of southern Africa tens of thousands of years before black or white men arrived, have been forced from their traditional Kalahari lands into bleak Government-administered settlements where unemployment, begging, alcoholism, prostitution, TB and AIDS are rife.The Government claims the removals are necessary to "develop" the Bushmen and to protect the Kalahari's rich wildlife. Aid groups argue the Bushmen have been cleared to make way for lucrative diamond mining and tourist projects. Last week 243 Bushmen resumed their challenge in Botswana's High Court against their eviction with 2000 others four years ago from the reserve. It follows a three-month postponement because the Bushmen ran out of money and had to send envoys around the world to raise funds to continue their action. The renewed hearing, in the town of Lobatse, featured the first Bushman woman, Mongwegi Tlhobogelo, to give evidence before the panel of three judges. She described how many police and vehicles arrived at her home in the reserve in 2002 and razed her hut and that of her fellow clansmen.The police then emptied all the clan's water tanks and loaded the people onto trucks to be taken to the Government settlement of New Xade, 300 kilometres to the west, outside the 52,000 square kilometre reserve. Testifying in a traditional Bushman click language, Ms Tlhobogelo said New Xade had been christened "the place of death" by its unwilling residents. She added: "Life there is horrible, with rampant crime and alcoholism." Another witness, Motsoko Ramafoko, said: "We did not want to leave the Kalahari. First they took our wives, loaded them in the trucks, and off they went to New Xade. Then they came for us men and forcefully removed us against our will. The officials were so arrogant and so vicious. The Government removed us from the graves of our fathers. I want my land back."
In what appeared to be either confusion or a reversal of government policy,Botswana's President told British MPs at the weekend that Bushmen are free to hunt in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The government had previously banned all hunting in the reserve, making the Bushmen's way of life impossible.
Botswana's Daily News reported that President Festus Mogae told the visitors the Bushmen "were allowed to hunt in the game reserves provided they used traditional hunting weapons, such as bows and arrows." The Daily News is a government-owned newspaper, making misreporting practically impossible.
In New Xade, Gakeolate Keilwe said: "The Government put pressure on us and said we can't live among the wild animals. But our forefathers lived with the animals and the animals didn't get wiped out. So why does the Government think we cannot live with the animals now? The Kalahari is one of Africa's most remote wildernesses. There are underground rivers but no surface water.
The Kalahari environment is a rich one for the Bushmen, also known as the San. Within a few square metres they can find a larder, a pharmacy and a well - water in fat tubers, edible berries, abundant truffles in season, medicinal leaves, nutritious beetles, poison for hunting arrows from certain plants and from scorpions' stings. The hearing may be the traditional Bushmen's last stand. President Mogae, a black African from the majority Batswana people, has dismissed the court challenge as "nonsense" and said that any verdict that goes against the Government will be challenged. He said the vast majority of Bushmen no longer pursue a nomadic life and that if their Kalahari demand was to be conceded they could theoretically lay claim to the whole of southern Africa.
"Precisely what happened with Australia's Aborigines is happening in the central
Kalahari," said Roger Chennells, one of the Bushmen's legal team. "For the Bushmen this is more than just the loss of their last land. It is a spiritual loss as they're wrenched away from the place that gives their lives meaning.".