Tragedy of mother's death highlights growing AIDS crisis

A 29-year-old Gana Bushman woman from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve has died of AIDS in New Xade resettlement camp, Botswana. Tumelo Sebelegangwana leaves one child of her own, and two children of her sister, who died earlier of TB.

Tumelo Sebelegangwana said to Survival earlier this year, ‘I want to go and be buried in my home in Molapo [in the Reserve]. I am sick now, I am about to die… We were the first people from Molapo to be evicted. Here in New Xade there are different kinds of diseases that we do not recognise… When you get sick, you die.’

Jumanda Gakelebone of local Bushman organisation First People of the Kalahari said today, ‘So many of our people are dying in the resettlement camps. We did not know this disease of AIDS before we were evicted from our land. This is what the government’s ‘development’ means for us.’

Botswana has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. The Bushmen in the Reserve were barely affected, but it is an increasing problem since relocation.

Tumelo’s family was evicted from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 1997. Her sister and her mother have also died in New Xade. Another sister is now caring for the three orphans left by Tumelo, plus four children of her own.

First People of the Kalahari said in a statement released last week, ‘We are really suffering now in the resettlement places. We as FPK believe that conflict diamonds are whenever diamonds cause pain and suffering.’ First People of the Kalahari has written to Leonardo DiCaprio, star of the forthcoming film Blood Diamond, asking him to help them. ‘When we were chased off our land, officials told us it was because of the diamond finds,’ said the letter.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The tragedy of Tumelo’s family is repeated again and again across the Botswana government’s resettlement camps. This is no surprise – removing tribal peoples from their land has always had disastrous consequences for their health. The government can’t claim ignorance, because it has been warned repeatedly that this would happen.’

Photos of Tumelo Sebelegangwana and her children are available.

For further information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]