Survival and the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve: 39 questions


An interview with Survival's Director Stephen Corry:

A supporter from Botswana recently interviewed me; this gave me an
opportunity to correct the misrepresentation of Survival's position
which has been much publicised by the Botswana government and some
Botswana NGOs.


1) Why does Survival want the Bushmen to live in the past?


We don't. Our campaign has nothing whatsoever to do with living either
'in the past' or in a 'modern' way. It has simply to do with the
rightful demand of the Bushmen to live on their ancestral land and to
be treated with respect.


2) But the CKGR is a game reserve; surely people can't live there?


Why not? They have done for centuries. What harm have they done? People
live – legally and without problems – in conservation zones all over
the world.


3) But when the CKGR was established, the Bushmen did not have livestock, surely the situation is different now.


It isn't very different. The Bushmen have tiny herds of goats and some
small fields, all originally introduced by the government itself
decades ago. They've had a handful of horses for at least a generation,
if not longer. The Bushmen do not harm the environment at all. In fact,
they help it: they know far more about the wildlife than the park
guards.


4) But the government says the Bushmen's herds were diseased and were affecting the game animals.


That is not true. Sarcoptic mange is common, not serious and not a
threat to wildlife. It was an excuse by the government to get the
Bushmen out.


5) But the government says the Bushmen were hunting with guns from vehicles.


That's not true either. The park guards themselves have repeatedly
denied it, so has the ex-director of the wildlife department, under
oath. Where are the Bushmen supposed to have got the ammunition for
their non-existent 'high-powered rifles'?


6) But isn't it the government's duty to make sure the Bushmen have access to a clinic?


The Bushmen inside the CKGR had a mobile clinic before the government
shut it. Bushmen inside the CKGR are no further from the new clinic (at
New Xade) than many remote communities throughout Botswana are from
their nearest clinic. Anyway, if Bushmen want to be nearer the clinic,
they can choose to go and live in New Xade. Why force them? The other
two relocation camps (Kaudwane and Xere) do not even have clinics, just
tiny health posts.


7) Isn't it the government's duty to provide schooling and wasn't this too expensive inside the reserve?


There was a school inside the reserve until the government shut it.
Even then, it was far cheaper to transport children between school and
their communities, than it was to pay for the &#39relocations'.


8) Wasn't the provision of water services inside the reserve too expensive for the government?


No, the cost of providing water to the relocation camps outside the
reserve is far more expensive. Not only did it cost very little to fill
the water tanks inside the CKGR, but the European Union offered to pay
anyway (the government refused). It cost nothing at all for one
community inside the CKGR to get water from its own borehole. The new
relocation camp of New Xade outside the reserve, on the other hand, had
no water at all and needed an extremely expensive pipeline to bring
water to it (actually coming from inside the reserve!).

9) Why does Survival want the Bushmen to return to the CKGR?

We don't want all Bushmen to return to the CKGR. We want the right of
those who want to return to be respected. The number will probably be
less than 1,000. Why won't the government let them go back?


10) Why does Survival want the Bushmen to be cut off from the rest of society?


We don't. They never have been. Until recently, they have always been
able to move in and out of the reserve as they wished. It's no
different from other Botswana citizens keeping their farms in the
countryside whilst working in the city; the Bushmen should be able to
keep their houses in the reserve and come in and out freely. Who is
that going to hurt?


11) Isn't 'living with the animals' very backward, why should it have a place in modern Botswana?


Most people in Botswana 'live with' animals; in most cases, with herds
of cows and goats. How is this more 'modern' than hunting? It's
actually not much different. Thinking it's 'inferior' is just prejudice.


12) Don't the Bushmen live in a very primitive way inside the reserve?


No, they are intelligent human beings. They live and eat well. They use
their surroundings as if it were their supermarket. Other Botswana
citizens use their herds in the same way, or use their skills to earn
money to buy food. The Bushmen use their skills to get the food without
needing money to buy it. There is nothing 'primitive' about it at all.
They deserve respect for their way of life, the same as everyone else.


13) Surely some peoples are more advanced than others?


This is an old European idea used to justify colonialism and fascism.
It is what European racists used to say about Africans. It has no basis
in science. (And even if some peoples were 'inferior' or 'backward' it
still would not justify violating their rights.) Certainly, some
societies are weaker than others, but that is a different thing.


14) Does Survival believe in 'progress'?


Yes, we believe that the fundamental basis of all human 'progress' is
respect for other people, particularly those who are weaker. It is easy
for governments to respect the majority and the strong because they
have to!
 

15) But only a tiny minority of Bushmen throughout Botswana want to live inside the reserve.


Then why not let them? About 750 Bushmen were forced out in 2002 and,
in spite of government harassment, about 250 returned until they were
evicted again in 2005. These people have all demonstrated their wish to
be allowed to return.


16) Isn't it just the old people who want to live inside the reserve?


Not at all, hundreds of young people also want to live on their ancestral lands inside the CKGR.


17) Why is Survival trying to hurt Botswana's economy?


We aren't. What possible advantage can it be to anyone to hurt
Botswana? On the contrary, we are trying to help the most disadvantaged
sector of the Botswana population.


18) Why then is Survival calling for boycotts?


Boycotts are one of the few tools that ordinary people have to express
their views about what governments and companies are doing around the
world. They don't harm the economy, but they do damage the reputation
of governments. South African goods were boycotted for years during
apartheid rule.


19) But if boycotts do damage Botswana's economy wouldn't it be Survival's fault?


No, it would be the government's fault. The boycotts can end tomorrow
if the Bushmen were treated fairly. No government today should be
allowed to oppress its minorities. The solution to the problem is with
the government, not with Survival.


20) Isn't Survival singling out a poor African state? What about
problems closer to 'home', such as the European Roma (&#39gypsy') people?


Survival is an international, not a British, organisation. We are
pursuing cases all over the world, including in countries with
predominantly 'white' governments, such as Canada. We focus on the most
vulnerable indigenous tribal peoples – that's our purpose. We have
supported the indigenous Saami people in northern Europe. We have not
worked with the Roma because they are not indigenous people; also, they
are generally well organised themselves and have never asked for help.


21) Isn't Survival a newcomer on the scene?


No, Survival has supported the Bushmen since the 1970s, when we secured
funds for Botswana government projects with them. We first met with
government representatives about their plans for the CKGR in the early
1980s.


22) Why doesn't Survival leave it up to Botswana NGOs such as Ditshwanelo and Bocongo?


Because experience shows that they are far too close to government to have any teeth or properly represent Bushmen interests.

23) In southern Africa we do things by talking as friends, not criticising.

That's not always so. International and local opposition to draining
parts of the Okavango succeeded in halting this ill-judged government
scheme in the 1990s. There are countless examples of how international
criticism has changed government policies all over the world, including
in Africa. Opposing human rights abuses is the business of all of us.


24) Wasn't the government negotiating with the Bushmen at one stage?


No, the government has never negotiated with a view to coming to an
agreement with the Bushmen, or even of listening to them. It has simply
told them it wants them off their ancestral land. The government's
definition of 'negotiation' is just to present its own decisions.


25) Isn't the government a free and democratic one?


Critics of the government are separated from their families and
expelled. Ministers have said that I should be arrested; officials have
told me that I would be beaten up. These are not signposts to freedom
and democracy.


26) Hasn't Survival lied about incidents such as Bushmen being shot or tortured?


No. All of Survival's information is true. Beatings and torture have
been going on for years and are still occurring. This has been well
documented although nothing has been done about it. There were three
separate shooting incidents in September 2005 when CKGR Bushmen,
including a child, were wounded by police.


27) Isn't this all to do with you, personally, Stephen Corry?


Not at all. Government people have said they'll just have to wait for
me to die. In fact, my death will make no difference to anything.
Survival is the world's foremost tribal peoples support movement and it
is united behind this campaign. It does not depend on me or on any
individual. Hundreds of thousands of people are behind this cause.


28) Then isn't it all just to do with Roy Sesana?


No. The Bushmen don't do what Roy Sesana tells them: he is one of their
mouthpieces, he does what they tell him to do! We have listened to
every single Bushman – there are hundreds of them – who want to go home
to the CKGR.


29) Why is Survival opposed to talks with the government?


We aren't.

30) Why does Survival say that all this is really about future mining in the CKGR?

Because it is; though we predict the government, De Beers and Botswana
NGOs will still pretend it was nothing to do with the evictions when
mining is taking place on Bushman land in future years. However, many
people simply won't buy the gems when they know what happened to the
Bushmen.


31) But could mining go ahead even if the Bushmen's rights to their lands were respected?


Yes.


32) Then why doesn't the government simply allow those Bushmen who want to return to the CKGR to do so?


It wants them out now because it's afraid their presence might
complicate mining in years to come. It hates the idea that the Bushmen
are not inferior, can make up their own minds, and that they have
rights. Officials have told them, 'We will own you until the end of
time.' The government clings to this backward master-servant,
essentially colonialist and racist, relationship.


33) Is Survival challenging the power of the Botswana government?


Not at all. We have always known that only the Botswana government has the power to resolve this matter.

34) Isn't this all about the old colonial power, Britain, telling Botswana what to do?

Not at all. The British government won't help the Bushmen either.
Survival is critical of many governments because of the way they treat
their indigenous people. We are also critical of the British
government.

35) On what basis does Survival argue that Botswana should respect the
wishes of the Bushmen and allow them to live on their ancestral land?


Because of international law and fundamental human rights. The land
rights of indigenous peoples have been recognised in international law
for 50 years. Botswana ignores this and refuses to sign the
international convention.

36) What gives Survival the right to speak for the Bushmen?

We have never claimed to speak for anyone. The Bushmen are perfectly
capable of speaking for themselves. We stand up for those who have
suffered violations of their rights, and we amplify their own voices in
a way they, themselves, can't. That is our job, just as it is for any
human rights organisation. For years, the CKGR Bushmen have repeatedly
asked us to help them.


37) What will Survival do if the court finds that the Bushmen should
not be allowed to return to live and hunt in the CKGR; or if the court
rules for the Bushmen but the government ignores it?


We will carry on the campaign.


38) What will Survival do if the government tells the Bushmen that
those who want to can return to the CKGR and live and hunt and gather
there without harassment?


We will welcome the decision and halt the campaign. Botswana might then
really become a 'shining light' for indigenous peoples' rights in
Africa.

39) If the government won't agree to that, are there other things which would make Survival halt the campaign?

No. Our job is not to bargain away the future rights and welfare of the
Bushmen. We have shown our 'staying power' for decades now; we simply
won't give up. That's not a threat: it is simply a statement of fact.


Survival Archives: 2005