Botswana president in racist outburst against Kalahari Bushmen

December 10, 2010

President Khama accused the Bushmen of living a ‘life of backwardness’ © Survival

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In an astonishing outburst, Botswana’s president has today described the Kalahari Bushmen as ‘primeval’, ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’.

Speaking at the country’s largest diamond mine, President Khama accused the Bushmen of living a ‘life of backwardness’ ‘a primitive life of deprivation co-existing alongside wild animals’, and ‘a primeval life of a bye [sic] gone era of hardship and indignity’.

Khama also accused Survival of ‘embarking upon a campaign of lies and misinformation’, calling the tribal rights organization ‘modern day highway robbers’. His comments came in response to Survival’s call for a boycott of Botswana tourism and diamonds over the government’s treatment of the Bushmen. President Khama is a board member of US organization Conservation International.

In 2002, while Khama was vice-president, the Botswana government forcibly evicted the Bushmen from their ancestral lands; an act that was later declared unlawful and unconstitutional by Botswana’s High Court, which also ruled that the Bushmen have the right to live on their lands.

Despite the ruling, Khama’s government has continued to prevent the Bushmen from living on their lands. It has banned them from accessing a well, which they rely on for water, and from hunting for food. At the same time, it has drilled new wells for wildlife and allowed Wilderness Safaris to erect a luxury tourist lodge with swimming pool on Bushman land. Over 25,000 people across the world have signed Survival’s petition calling on Wilderness Safaris to move its lodge off Bushman land.

While the Bushmen have turned to litigation to gain access to their well, the government is in negotiations with Gem Diamonds to construct a diamond mine on Bushman land.

Khama has previously referred to the Bushmen as ‘an archaic fantasy’, a view that has been echoed by members of his cabinet. Last month, speaking to the BBC, Botswana’s minister of environment, wildlife and tourism said he didn’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’. The vice-president has also been quoted as questioning why the Bushmen must ‘continue to commune with the flora and fauna’ when they could ‘enjoy the better things in life, like driving Cadillacs’.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Many countries have laws to stop people insulting other peoples and their ways of life. There are sinister echoes here of racial superiority which should have no place in any modern democracy. It’s this thinking which is ‘backward’, not the Bushmen.’