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In a debate in the UK House of Lords last night, Baroness Tonge called the Kalahari Bushmen's method of hunting with bows and arrows 'primitive' and their way of life 'stone age'. She dismissed the court case the Bushmen are taking against the Botswana government, and repeated claims about their way of life that have been proved false in the Botswana high court.
Baroness Tonge is the former Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge, fired from the front bench for saying she 'empathised' with suicide bombers.
Tonge said that a few Bushmen, along with Survival, were 'holding the Government of Botswana to ransom' over the evictions from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In fact, 240 Bushmen, who are among the country's poorest inhabitants, have taken the government to court for forcing them off their ancestral land. She claimed that the Bushmen hunt in the reserve using guns and 4×4 vehicles – but Director of Wildlife Joseph Matlhare, the government's own witness, testified in court he knew of no evidence that this had ever happened. She also claimed that the presence of the Bushmen's few domestic animals was harming the reserve's ecology – but the government's own figures show that wildlife numbers in the reserve doubled in the ten years before the evictions.
Tonge, along with Lord Jones and other British parliamentarians, spent half a day visiting one of the Botswana government's Bushman resettlement camps in 2002, and was shown around by government officials. Lord Pearson, who was part of the same delegation, revealed last night that De Beers had paid for the parliamentarians' trip, including first-class air travel. De Beers is exploring for diamonds on the Bushmen's land.
'The idea was to convince me and the other members of the group not only what a great place Botswana was but that the Bushmen had not been mistreated…' said Lord Pearson. 'I took the precaution of hiring my own interpreter, so I was able to hear exactly what some of the 200 Bushmen and their families who had recently been forcibly resettled in a camp at New Xade were saying. I heard them describe it as a place of death, where they had nothing to do but drink, take drugs and catch AIDS…. I, for one, came home more convinced than ever that a great injustice was being done.'
Lord Jones, who according to the Mail on Sunday newspaper is known by political rivals as 'Junket Jones', regularly defends the Botswana government's expulsion of the Bushmen. He has recently bought a luxury villa in Botswana owned by a company called 'Dolce Vita' – 'the good life'. It is built on land belonging to the son of a former Botswana cabinet minister.
To read a transcript of the debate click here
For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]