Eviction of Bushmen ‘unlawful and unconstitutional’

Botswana's high court began hearing the Bushmen's lawyer present his final arguments yesterday. Lawyer Gordon Bennett argued that the eviction of the Bushmen was unlawful, unconstitutional and was done without their consent.

Bennett pointed out that the state had not brought even one of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen to court to testify that they agreed with their relocation from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This, he said, was a ‘telling omission'.

He also pointed to documents showing that in 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, the Bushmen living in the reserve said they did not want to move. The government's lawyers had produced no evidence to suggest that the Bushmen had changed their minds by the time of the evictions in early 2002. Bennett argued that they moved because they were ‘placed under intolerable pressure by the government to leave the reserve.'

Bennett noted that the government had withdrawn services from the Bushmen in the reserve which it itself admitted were ‘basic' and ‘essential'. He argued that, contrary to the government's claims, the withdrawal of these services had nothing to do with their cost. ‘That cost must have paled into insignificance compared to the millions and millions spent on infrastructure, roads, water supplies and so on at New Xade and Kaudwane [the government's resettlement camps].'

He also said the government, in illegally withdrawing the Bushmen's hunting licences, was ‘prepared to break its own law to achieve its purpose.'

Bennett demonstrated that the evidence of government witnesses was often unreliable and contradictory, and invited the court ‘to consider to what extent we can place reliance on any evidence of any of the government witnesses.'

The arguments are scheduled to continue for the rest of this week.