Bushman court case - concluding arguments to be heard in August

May 25, 2006

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The lawyers representing the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of the Kalahari – who have taken the Botswana government to court to fight for their right to live on their ancestral land – will present their final arguments to the High Court of Botswana in August this year.

Bushmen outside courtSurvival hopes that a judgment will be reached by September or October.

The landmark case has been the longest-running legal case in Botswana's history, despite being brought by the country's poorest inhabitants.

The evidence in the case concluded last week with the court hearing testimony from government witness Pelonomi Venson. Ms Venson took office as Minister for Wildlife and Tourism in 2002, shortly after the commencement of the eviction of around 700 Bushmen from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve between February and June of that year. Contrary to expectations, the Minister directly responsible for overseeing the evictions, Margaret Nasha, was not called by the government to give evidence. No explanation was given for her failure to appear.

Venson testified that the government does not consider that a reliance on hunting and gathering could be seen as a part of a people's 'culture'. The Gana and Gwi Bushmen consider hunting and gathering to be essential to their survival as peoples, both physically and spiritually. Prohibiting them from hunting and gathering in the resettlement camps outside the reserve has led to health problems, cultural breakdown and almost total dependence on government handouts over the last few years.

When questioned on the government's reasons for the evictions, Venson made the comment, 'Our main focus is for an integrated society. We want to promote that integration.'

Venson was also questioned on claims that the Bushmen were evicted because the government planned to mine for diamonds on their land. She responded, 'That development might take place. That is open to debate. I cannot say conclusively. Should the state discover minerals anywhere, they will be mined for the benefit of Botswana.' She said it would not be relevant where such minerals may be found as, 'the prime interest – that of national benefit – would over-ride any other considerations.'