Bushmen denied right to vote

February 17, 2010

Bushman man, Botswana. © Survival International

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Over 400 Bushmen were denied the right to vote in Botswana’s 2009 general election, with five Bushman communities inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve omitted from the electoral register.

Speaking to Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper, Roy Sesana, Bushman spokesman, claimed, ‘People were living in those settlements during the elections. They did not vote when the rest of the nation went to the polls’. The revelations were confirmed by the District Commissioner and are the latest in a long line of assaults against the Bushmen’s rights.

Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, who was sworn in as the country’s fourth president after last year’s elections, has continuously flouted a 2006 High Court ruling that said the Bushmen have the right to live on their lands in the reserve. His government has denied them access to a borehole which they rely on for water, at the same time as drilling new boreholes for wildlife and supporting a safari lodge with swimming pool in the reserve.

Khama has also described the Bushmen’s way of life as an ‘archaic fantasy’, and a South African woman was recently arrested for remarking that he ‘looked like a Bushman’.

The Bushmen’s political marginalization was acknowledged in the latest US Department of State’s 2008 human rights report which said that they ‘lacked adequate political representation, and were not fully aware of their civil rights’. It also criticized the government for its ‘narrow interpretation of a 2006 high court ruling’.

The revelations emerged recently after Sesana told the same newspaper that attempts to negotiate with the government have broken down, as it failed to provide support for a representative team. The Bushmen have now lodged legal proceedings against the government in an attempt to gain access to their borehole.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said, ‘It’s no surprise that the government excluded the Bushmen from the election; they have been treated like second-class citizens for years. Why would the government give voting rights to the Bushmen when it won’t even let them have water?’