|Government minister says Bushmen are ‘living in the dark ages’.|
© Survival International
Botswana’s minister of environment, wildlife and tourism is the most recent government official to make disparaging remarks about the Kalahari Bushmen.
In an interview with the BBC, Kitso Mokaila said, ‘I don’t believe you would want to see your own kind living in the dark ages in the middle of nowhere as a choice, when you know that the world has moved forward and has become so technological’.
Mokaila’s remarks are the latest in a long line of insults by government officials, and are an indication of the deep-rooted racism towards the Bushmen.
The president of Botswana, Ian Khama, made similar comments in 2008, describing the Bushmen’s hunting lifestyle as ‘an archaic fantasy’. Last year, a South African woman was arrested for remarking that Khama ‘looked like a Bushman’.
Khama, a board member of Conservation International, has banned the Bushmen from accessing a well which they rely on for water on their lands. At the same time, his administration has drilled new wells for wildlife only, and allowed Wilderness Safaris to erect a luxury tourist lodge on Bushman land. In addition, the government is currently in negotiations with Gem Diamonds to construct a diamond mine on Bushman land.
Khama’s predecessor, Festus Mogae, argued in 1996, that the Bushmen are ‘Stone Age creatures’ who ‘must change or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish’. His comments came as his government started to move the Bushmen from their ancestral lands; further evictions in 2002 were ruled illegal and unconstitutional by Botswana’s High Court.
The then foreign minister, General Mompati Sebogodi Merafhe, now Botswana’s vice-president, questioned in 2002 why the Bushmen must ‘continue to commune with the flora and fauna’ when they could ‘enjoy the better things in life, like driving Cadillacs’.
Margaret Nasha, former minister for local government and current minister in the office of the president responsible for public service, said in 2002, ‘Sometimes I equate [the Bushman issue] to the elephants. We once had the same problem when we wanted to cull the elephants and people said no.’
Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘Mokaila’s remarks smack of the colonial past and show that the government still holds the same racist attitudes it held back in 2002 when it forced the Bushmen off their lands. The Bushmen deserve respect for their way of life, the same as everyone else. If anyone is ‘living in the dark ages’ it’s the Botswana government’.
Mokaila’s remarks come as Survival launches a call for a boycott of Botswana tourism and diamonds over the government’s treatment of the Bushmen.