'Botswana's angry lion', by Stephen Corry


Botswana's angry lion

by Stephen Corry

(This article was originally written for publication in Botswana, and
published in the Sunday Standard newspaper on 20 November 2005. This
version has been slightly adapted for an international readership.)

Alice Mogwe of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, and
Braam Leroux of the Kuru organisation are attacking the Bushmen's land
struggle in central Botswana. This will make it harder, perhaps
impossible, for the Bushmen to raise sufficient funds to continue their
court case.

The attacks came in a BBC radio programme last week (10 November).
Leroux, a South African by birth, said he thought Bushman descriptions
about their mistreatment were exaggerated. I wonder how he knows, has
he been there to see? He went on to comment that Survival ësounded like
terrorism'. That this nonsense parrots some government ministers is not
surprising: his organisation, Kuru, counts senior politicians amongst
its patrons, so it can hardly be seen as neutral in the struggle
between the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
and government. Leroux and Mogwe also claimed that the government had
come down hard on the Gana and Gwi as a result of Survival's
involvement. Mogwe likened the Botswana government to a lion prodded
from outside its cage, lashing out at those within reach – its Bushman
citizens.

Survival emphatically denies that it ëmade things worse' over the Gana
and Gwi issue: the Bushmen know it is not true and not even the
government has made such a claim. Ditshwanelo blames Survival for a
2001 breakdown in ënegotiations' between the Bushmen and government,
but in fact there never were ënegotiations' in the true sense of two
parties working out an agreement. The government consistently and
rightly rejected the term.

The real story is that the government called a halt to meetings after
it learnt that the ënegotiating team' – headed by Ditshwanelo – had
been discussing a ëmanagement plan' with the wildlife department but
without the proper involvement of senior politicians. The Bushmen
themselves had tried to bring ministers into the meetings, but
astonishingly this idea had been rejected by the non-Bushmen members of
the team. Ditshwanelo actually wrote to Survival saying that
politicians should not be involved because they might ëwake up' to the
fact that ësomething has been happening'. When the government finally
did see the plan, it immediately threw it out!

At this point the ënegotiating team' itself deliberately leaked its
proposals to the South African press, hoping that the resulting
international publicity would pressure the government into
backtracking. This was another mistake and in fact had the reverse
effect.

It struck me then, as it has so often, how the Bushmen's own judgement
was so much better than Ditshwanelo's. I believe that the
least-schooled Bushman in the reserve has a more accurate sense of what
the government is doing to them than has this NGO. Time and time again,
Ditshwanelo has been shown to be wrong, both with its assessment and
strategy, and the Bushmen have been proved right.

The so-called ënegotiations' were once heavily supported by European
donors giving money to Ditshwanelo. By 2001 this had been going on for
many years without achieving anything. It was convenient then for
Ditshwanelo to find someone else, Survival, on whom to blame the
breakdown, and so wash its hands of any responsibility for all that
futile spending of donor money.

The fact that Ditshwanelo achieved nothing is not surprising. I repeat,
no real ënegotiation' ever took place. The most that did happen was a
ëconsultation' with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve people when
officials asked their views, reserving the right to reject them, which
they did. In fact, every single view expressed by the Bushmen was
rejected.

This was made clear during a televised meeting I had in Botswana last
year with Mr Mpofu, permanent secretary of foreign affairs. He said,
ëGovernment took a decision after it felt it had adequately consulted.
I don't think anyone can talk about talks breaking down.' The
presidential special adviser, Mr Pilane made the same point on the
recent radio programme. He asserted, ëWe will talk to the San, hear
their views on the plan that we think is the appropriate one to apply.'
In other words, the government may listen to the views of the Bushmen
but then will decide what it's going to do anyway. This is not
ënegotiation' and never has been.

But suppose for a moment that Ditshwanelo had been right: that the
government was negotiating with the Bushmen in order to work out a
formula everyone could agree to. If this was going on, why should
government have allowed Survival to divert it from its goal? If it did
so, sacrificing its own Bushmen citizens out of nothing more than anger
at Survival, then it shows the government in an extraordinarily poor
light, hurting its own people simply because a ëforeign' organisation
was helping them. That is actually what both Mogwe and Leroux are
accusing the government of.

De Beers, which is giving Kuru some $5 million to support its projects,
has long referred critics to Ditshwanelo to defend it. In turn,
Ditshwanelo works hard to deny any link between the Bushman evictions
and diamonds.

But Ditshwanelo is aware that De Beers has made it clear that it does
hope to mine in the reserve. It would be there, on the ground, now if
it wasn't for the Bushmen's campaign. If it doesn't know this, it
should, because the father of Ditshwanelo's director is former minister
of mines, Mr Mogwe, a director of one of the companies exploring the
reserve for diamonds.

In fact, both Ditshwanelo and the government were open about the link
between diamonds and evictions before the campaign hotted up.
Ditshwanelo's 1998 report for example says, ëthe expansion of the
existing tourism and mining industry within Botswana' is the basis
behind the government's ëdesire to move the Bushmen.' In the recent
radio programme, Ms Khama, chairwoman of De Beers in Botswana, makes it
clear that De Beers would have to relocate those inside the mining
lease. Of course, they won't need to go to the bother now because
almost all the Bushmen have been kicked out.

Ditshwanelo withdrew its support for the Bushmen court case a long time
ago and has effectively stopped the European funders helping. It even
tried to get Amogolang, one man from the reserve, to abandon his own
personal case against his ërelocation', a case which he went on to win.
It would be tragic if the Gana and Gwi now failed to raise the funds
they need to continue with their wider case because of the public
attacks launched by Mogwe and Leroux, but it would, of course, suit the
government perfectly.

It is obviously in the national interest for the very important legal
issues to be properly decided, as the government itself has stressed.
The case is being brought by Botswana's financially most impoverished
citizens against the full might of the state. In a fair democracy of
course the state would itself fund the Bushmen to bring their case.
Instead of this, Botswana is wasting £150,000, paid to an Englishwoman,
Ms Parr, to sit in London and oppose the Bushmen campaign. But then in
a fair and open democracy, the police would not be shooting unarmed
people – including a child – or starving them off their ancestral land
without there being at least a full investigation. The fact that there
hasn't been must surely give the police the impression they can act as
they like.

Incidentally, I am happy to learn from the president's recent address
that Botswana is doing well. It has never been Survival's intention to
harm the economy or the country, but just as with the struggle against
apartheid in South Africa, boycotts are about the only tool we have to
try and get the government to listen to the Bushmen, an impoverished
David fighting a government Goliath that is backed by limitless funds.

The government can easily continue to oppress the Bushmen and the
economy can continue to boom, but the government's reputation and
prestige will not emerge intact. Many in Botswana support the Bushmen's
right to stay and hunt on their lands and know the government has made
a serious mistake. There is also massive international interest and
support which will never go away whatever propaganda trickery the
government employs. That international support belongs to the Bushmen.
It is not dependent on Survival International.

Human rights organisations are supposed to expose human rights
violations, not keep quiet about them. Otherwise, what are they for? If
they care about this and if it is considered ëantagonistic' in Botswana
to speak about such violations, perhaps Leroux and Mogwe might try to
calm the angry lion of their government or at least stop it attacking
its own people rather than endlessly and self-servingly blaming
Survival. They have the time to attack Survival but are not prepared to
speak out when people are shot or evicted. How exactly did that help
during the 1997 evictions, or those in 2002?

Look at the facts. There are about 70 known cases of men being arrested
for hunting for food in recent years. That's about half the adult men
evicted in 2002. About 40 of those have been tortured, leaving three of
them dead. Known cases of HIV/AIDS in the so-called relocation camps
have increased over fivefold in four years. Three people, including a
child, were recently shot and wounded. Six were recently beaten in
custody. Seven children were imprisoned. It is now nearly 100 days
since the CKGR was shut to all observers, lawyers, journalists,
tourists etc. and since the people have been prevented from hunting or
even gathering. As you read this, the CKGR Bushmen are being starved
out of the reserve. At least one woman has died.

Ditshwanelo and Kuru should start properly and effectively standing up
for those Bushmen and supporting the Bushmen's own organisation, First
People of the Kalahari, rather than futilely attacking Survival!