U.S. State Department calls marginalization of Bushmen a ‘principal human rights concern’

Kebonyeng Kepese has been arrested near the Gope community on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and beaten for hunting to feed his family, despite the legal recognition of the Bushmen's right to live and hunt on their ancestral land back in 2006.
Kebonyeng Kepese has been arrested near the Gope community on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and beaten for hunting to feed his family, despite the legal recognition of the Bushmen's right to live and hunt on their ancestral land back in 2006.
© Survival International

The U.S. State Department has issued a damning report labelling the Botswana Government’s discrimination against the Bushmen as a ‘principal human rights concern’.

The 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Botswana describes the Bushmen as ‘marginalized economically and politically’, and notes they ‘generally did not have access to their traditional land’.

The report is an embarrassing blow to Botswana’s government, which has long claimed that its forced evictions of Bushmen from their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) were both voluntary and for their own social and economic ‘development’.

In 2006, the Bushmen won a landmark High Court case that recognized their right to live in the CKGR, after the government forced them from their ancestral land in three brutal waves of evictions.

However, the State Department’s report says that Botswana has chosen a ‘narrow interpretation’ of the High Court ruling: ‘Although authorities permitted some of the original residents to return to the CKGR, their children and other relatives continue to be required to have permits to come and go from the CKGR’.

The majority of Bushmen are forced to apply for one-month permits to enter the CKGR – a policy which has been likened to the hated Pass Laws under apartheid South Africa.

The State Department’s findings are in line with a recent BBC investigation into the lives of Bushmen who have not been permitted to return home from the government relocation camps.

The BBC report found the camps rife with AIDS and alcoholism, both previously unknown to the Bushmen, despite government promises of a better life outside the Reserve.

Survival International has written to the US government calling on it to help end the Botswana government’s racist policies against the Bushmen.

In September 2013, Survival launched a boycott of tourism to Botswana until the government upholds the Bushmen’s right to live in peace on their land in the CKGR.