First People of the Kalahari: the struggle for ancestral lands

Five days after their leaders were arrested and beaten, there was a dramatic turnaround today in the fortunes of the Kalahari Bushmen as they learnt they have won the ëAlternative Nobel Prize'.


First People of the Kalahari (FPK), the grass-roots organization of the
Gana and Gwi Bushmen of Botswana, who are fighting for their right to
return to their ancestral homeland, today won Sweden's Right Livelihood
Award, known as the ëAlternative Nobel Prize'.


The award has been given for the Bushmen's ëresolute resistance against
eviction from their ancestral lands, and for upholding the right to
their traditional way of life.'


Five days ago the FPK leaders were amongst a group of 28 Bushmen who
were arrested by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. The Bushmen
were attempting to take food and water to their relatives still inside
the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, from which most of the Bushmen have
been evicted. The Bushmen leaders were badly beaten after being
handcuffed.


FPK has been fighting a long battle for the right of the Gana and Gwi
Bushmen to live peacefully inside the reserve, which is their ancestral
homeland. The reserve's rich diamond deposits have been widely blamed
for the government's expulsion of the Bushmen. De Beers, which runs all
Botswana's diamond mines, is now the subject of a global boycott.


For more information about the award go to:


http://www.rightlivelihood.org/news/event05.htm


For more information about the Bushmen please contact Miriam Ross on (020) 7687 8731 or email mr@survival-international.org


Past winners of the Prize include Kenyan environmentalist Wangari
Maathai (who went on to win the Nobel Prize), and Nigerian Ken
Saro-Wiwa.


The FPK's leader Roy Sesana is the first Botswana-born winner of the prize.



The First People of the Kalahari and Roy Sesana

Roy Sesana, or Tobee Tcori (his Bushman name), is a leader of the
Gana, Gwi and Bakgalagadi 'Bushmen' and a founder of their
organisation, First People of the Kalahari. He was born in a Bushman
community, Molapo, in Botswana, at least 50 years ago but doesn't know
his precise age. He spent a few years as a labourer in South Africa
before returning to the central Kalahari in 1971, to train as a
traditional healer.


The 4,000 Gana and Gwi were amongst the last Bushmen living on and from
their own land, largely through hunting and gathering. In 1997 and
2002, after years of harassment, the Botswana government evicted them -
and their neighbours, the Bakgalagadi – from their ancestral lands in
the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Officials closed their
borehole, poured away their water, and threatened to burn them in their
huts if they did not move. Since then, more than 200 Bushmen evaded the
guards and returned to their lands.


The rest are waiting in government resettlement camps which they call
'places of death'. Although the government has spent millions on the
camps, including paying a few Bushmen to support its policy, the
inmates are miserable. They are forbidden to hunt or gather and
entirely dependent on government handouts. Incidences of alcoholism and
resultant domestic violence and prostitution are rocketing, as is
HIV/AIDS.


The Bushmen were told that they had to move to make way for future
diamond mining. However, both the government and its partner, De Beers,
now deny this, although the whole reserve is now covered with
exploration concessions. Although the reserve was created specifically
for the Bushmen in the 1960s, government policy changed in the 1980s
when diamonds were discovered (it is still not mined). The Bushmen were
'persuaded' to leave, and beatings and tortures by guards became
frequent. In a 2004 public talk, Sesana described his own brother's
death after a beating by officials.


Sesana was one of the founders of the Bushman organisation, First
People of the Kalahari (FPK), set up in 1991 to protect their rights,
especially the neglected issue of land rights. Until then, a few NGOs
in Botswana had worked with Bushmen on development and missionary
projects, but not on deeper issues. FPK emerged as the most outspoken
defender of Bushman rights in Botswana, attracting increasing
government hostility. Their telephones are tapped, their visitors
monitored and they are publicly vilified. One other Bushman-run NGO,
WIMSA-Botswana, supports them.


Sesana was a founder of FPK and chairman from 1995 until 2000. Since
then, he has concentrated on working in the communities and on taking
the government to court for evicting his people. The survival of FPK is
constantly threatened, but it has been successful in gaining
international attention. It has also initiated and supported many

projects, including providing legal help, mapping Bushman land, and
getting many Bushmen registered as reserve 'residents'.


The Bushmen have an egalitarian society with no tradition of political
leaders. The Bushmen themselves explain that Sesana does what they want:
their struggle is a communal one. Nevertheless, Sesana has shown
extraordinary personal courage and consistency in the face of
government repression. He personifies his people's struggle for their
survival, their ancestral lands and for their freedom to choose their
own way of life (which they do not see as archaic, but
forward-looking). His work also epitomizes two much wider vital issues.
Firstly, will the right of indigenous peoples in Africa be recognised?
Although the Bushmen have been there for 20,000 years or more, Botswana
claims all citizens are equally indigenous. Secondly, should
development be allowed to destroy people?


On 24 September 2005, Sesana and the entire leadership of FPK were
arrested together with about 20 other Bushmen, including many children.
They were attempting to enter their land to help the people there.
Armed guards have established camps around their communities to stop
all hunting, and are on the point of removing their small stock of
goats to starve them off.


Sesana and the other FPK leaders were beaten after being arrested. They were allowed out on bail on 27 September.