“Bushmen” in Botswana

The UN Special Envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying: “Although a case for a crime against humanity… might be difficult to sustain, the government of Zimbabwe clearly caused large sections of its population serious suffering.”

In 2002, reporting on the plight of the San people in Botswana, the UN Human Rights Commission reported that remaining in the Kalahari is essential to the San’s “survival as a distinct people”. The San people are not only distinct, but are indigenous people of Southern Africa; something that the Botswana government refuses to recognize. The government claims that every Motswana (people of Botswana) is indigenous – a self-serving argument that does not stand in the face of historical and archeological evidence.

And, just like in Zimbabwe, the San people have been subjected to forced removal from The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) where they have been residing since 1961. The government started the forced removals in 1997, saying that it was removing the San people from the CKGR because the game reserve is not for humans, and so, hence it had to relocate them to a better site 60 km away from the reserve.

If Tibaijuka, the UN Special Envoy, takes issues of crimes against humanity seriously, she would look into the case of the San people. The Botswana government refuses to recognize the San people as indigenous people, but are instead called “Basarwa” by ordinary Botswana people. Basarwa is a demeaning word suggesting servitude. The San people are the poorest in the Botswana, totally marginalized and landless. In addition, there is the forced removal that they have been subjected to since 1997.

One wonders when is the UN going to employ the same harsh terms used to describe the situation in Zimbabwe when it describes the plight of the San people. When is the UN going to talk about the impoverishment and the destruction of the social network of the San people as a “man-made” disaster like it does when it talks about Zimbabwe?

I guess when there is a big diamond company and the IMF in the picture, the language gets softened a bit, and justice is not pursued with the same intensity as it would normally be the case.

The reason behind the forced removal of the San people is to create a tourism industry in Botswana, the goal being to diversify the country’s economy. The IMF made it clear to the Botswana government that it must diversify its economy, and move away from depending on diamond revenues (Business Day 25/11/99). Botswana is the world’s top producer of diamonds by value, and the gems represent some 60 percent of government revenues (Sunday Times 24/07/05). This is generated by Debswana – a company jointly owned by the government and De Beers.

Survival International believes that the main reason behind the removal is that the game reserve (CKGR) which the government once considered barren, houses one of the world’s richest diamond fields. According to the UN news agency, test drilling has already taken place at Gope – a location within the reserve. Survival International points out that the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, has given credibility to the exploration by providing Kalahari Diamonds (part owned by Billiton – an Anglo-Australian multinational) with $ 2 million.

I want to say in conclusion, I am not in any way trying to devalue the struggle of the Zimbabweans; but what I am attempting to reveal is the hypocrisy that drives the international institutions.

One thought on ““Bushmen” in Botswana”

  1. Is it really far to compare
    Is it really far to compare this situation to the one of Zimababwe? I feel that i am justified in asking this question as i lived in Botswana for well over a decade. True this is a horrible situation, and i am completely on the side of the San but what about the recognition they do get? In the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy they are potrayed as loving and kind. They also bring tourisim to the country which the government do recognise. This government is one, if not the best in Africa and I think that they also deserve praise, not just critisim.

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