Government moves to scrap Bushman rights

'How can the government even think of changing this section halfway through our court case?' First People of the Kalahari, Bushman organisation.

Botswana's government is pushing a bill through Parliament to scrap the key clause in the Constitution which protects ’Bushmen' rights. The move comes half way through the Bushmen's landmark legal action against the government,
in which the same clause forms a major plank of the Bushmen's case. The trial marks the first time in Botswana's history that the clause has actually been tested in court, but the government aims to scrap it within a few months.

The clause, technically known as s14(3)©, says that the general public can have their right to free movement restricted within ’defined areas' if this is necessary for the protection or well-being of Bushmen. In practice this should mean that the Gana and Gwi Bushmen's ancestral land within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is protected. The Bushmen rely on this clause for part of their case against the government for evicting them from the reserve.

The Bushmen's own organisation, First People of the Kalahari, said
in a statement, ’How can the government even think of changing this section halfway through our court case? This section was included in the Constitution to give us protection. Now we are trying to rely on the section for the first time in history. Can it be a coincidence that a few months later, the government has decided to remove it?'

The government claims that it wants to render the Constitution ’tribally neutral'. But whilst a Bill to remove unfair constitutional privileges for Botswana's eight majority tribes has been discussed for many years, the government has only recently inserted a provision to remove the only protection for Bushmen. The government's party has been in power since independence, and its majority allows it to push any bill through Parliament virtually unhindered.

As the case drags on, at least twenty-two of the original 243 Bushmen who are taking the government to court have died, most in relocation camps far
from their land.During the trial, Bushmen witnesses have given graphic accounts to the court of how they were forced off their land.

Losolobe Mogetse explained how he had argued with an official who came to evict him and was told he could not visit his dying father, Mogetse, who was already in a relocation camp, unless he agreed to relocate there permanently. He said he had no choice but to leave his land if he wished to see his father again.

Motsoko Ramafoko described the government's tactics to divide families. ’First they took our wives, loaded them in the trucks and off they went to New Xade. Then they came for us men… and forcefully removed us against our will.' Tshokodiso Botshilwane described how he watched helplessly as officials dismantled his huts, but refused to leave the reserve. He declared,
’I prefer death to relocation.'

Mongwegi Thobogelo told the court that she would never apply for a permit to enter the reserve as it was the place of her birth. ’It was declared a reserve while we already lived there,' she said. She recounted how Bushmen returning to their land have been harassed by government officials, and arrested for entering the reserve without a permit.

To escape deteriorating conditions in the relocation camps where prostitution, alcoholism and HIV/AIDS have all now taken hold, many Bushmen are returning to their lands in the reserve despite intimidation by game scouts
and lack of water. One family returning home in November was denied water by game scouts when they broke down near the reserve entrance, and were forced to wait three days without water until they were rescued. People in the reserve are surviving by drinking water from wild tsama melons and pans (shallow depressions) where water occasionally collects, after their water borehole was destroyed by the government during the eviction.

You can help:

Please write a brief and polite letter (in English, or your own language). It is best to send your letter by post as there is no doubt this makes the biggest impact. Alternatively, you can use the fax numbers provided, but please be aware that numbers are often changed, or machines unplugged. Email addresses are given only where there is a realistic chance emails will be read. Please feel free to use the following letter as a guide or write one of your own.

Dear Sir,
I am appalled at your government's actions in pushing through a bill to remove the Bushmen's key constitutional protection while their court case against your government is going on. Such conduct goes against the most basic tenets of justice, and will do your country immense harm in the eyes of the world. I urge you not to remove the Bushmen's key protection from the constitution. I also urge you to let those Bushmen who wish to return to their land in the reserve to do so freely, to hunt and gather without persecution, and to pump up their own water.

Please send your letters to:
His Excellency Festus Mogae
President of Botswana               
President's Office   
Private Bag 001       
Gaborone       
Botswana   

Fax: +267 395 0858
Email: [email protected]

If possible, please send a copy to
Vice-President Lt-Gen Ian Khama Seretse Khama
at the same address/email as above.