Reserve sealed off, Bushmen threatened at gunpoint

September 5, 2005

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BOTSWANA: Reserve sealed off, Bushmen threatened at gunpoint

Wildlife guards have entered the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and are threatening Bushmen at gunpoint in an attempt to force them to abandon their homes.

As Botswana's crackdown on the Gana and Gwi Bushmen mounts, there are fears that the government is intent on re-evicting the 200-250 Bushmen still living on their land.

The government has banned all outsiders, including journalists, from the Reserve, and is trying to stop the Bushmen inside having any way of communicating with the outside world.

The government has announced that it has sealed off the Reserve because a disease called sarcoptic mange has been found in the Bushmen's goats. This ’discovery' came after an American zoologist called Dr Kathleen Alexander, who is a former government employee, went into the Reserve in July to ’inspect' the Bushmen's goats. A government spokesman said the disease has a ’high fatality rate'.

But Dr James Wood, head of Cambridge University Veterinary School's Infectious Diseases Consortium, said today, 'Sarcoptic mange does not have a high fatality rate. It can be easily treated in domestic animals, and there is little danger of wild animals catching it from the Bushmen's goats. There is no reason to close a Game Reserve because of its presence there.'

Thirty of those still living in the reserve resisted eviction completely in 2002, while the rest returned to their homes after the evictions despite government opposition. Hundreds more Bushmen wait in resettlement camps, desperate to return.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, ’Botswana's reputation is now linked inextricably with the fate of the Bushmen. As the country destroys the Gana and Gwi Bushmen, it corrupts its own reputation – perhaps forever. I don't think people will want diamonds dug from the Bushmen's grave as symbols of their love, and I don't think tourists will be attracted to the country which destroyed the last hunting Bushmen in the world. We will make sure that people know the connections. There's more than reputation at stake now, Botswana's government is destroying the country's only sources of wealth.'

Photos and footage available. For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734, or email [email protected]