Botswana government rejects high-profile court ruling

December 14, 2010

Four years later, the Botswana government continues to reject the High Court ruling. © Survival International

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Four years on from a court victory which saw the Kalahari Bushmen win the right to live on their ancestral lands, the Botswana government has issued a statement flouting the ruling.

In 2002, the Botswana government forcibly evicted the Bushmen from their ancestral lands inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. On December 13, 2006, after the longest and most expensive legal battle in the country’s history, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the government had forcibly evicted the Bushmen from their lands illegally and unconstitutionally.

However, since the ruling, the government has continued to prevent the Bushmen from returning home, and has issued a statement that flies in the face of the High Court judgment.

[The government] might want to consider whether the disappearance of a people isn’t too high a price to pay for offering services at a centralized location.
Botswana judge

In the statement, the government claims that it ‘does not force [the Bushmen] to move out of the Game Reserve’, and that the Bushmen ‘have welcomed the developments at their new settlements’. However, the court found that the Bushmen ‘were dispossessed of the land they occupied wrongfully and unlawfully and without their consent.’

The statement also argues that the government has provided the Bushmen with ‘developments at their new settlements, such as the provision of educational and medical facilities, and numerous other opportunities, for improving their quality of life.’ Yet 13 years after the main resettlement camp was created, virtually no Bushmen have found permanent employment, and alcoholism and disease are rife. As one of the judges said, ‘[The government] might want to consider whether the disappearance of a people isn’t too high a price to pay for offering services at a centralized location’.

Despite the court finding that the ‘simultaneous stoppage of the supply of food rations and the issuing of [hunting licences] is tantamount to condemning the remaining residents of the [reserve] to death by starvation’, the government has banned the Bushmen from accessing water or hunting for food on their own lands. Its statement accuses the Bushmen of ‘poaching’ on their own lands, arguing that this has led to ‘a decline of all species in the reserve’, even though there is no evidence for this.

The government statement also criticizes Survival, arguing that the organization ‘wants [the Bushmen] to live a life of poverty and disease’. However, one of the judges praised Survival for giving ‘courage and support to a people who historically were too weak economically and politically to question decisions affecting them’.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘’The Botswana government is now just repeating the same old stuff it said in 2002, and which was proved to be a complete fabrication. It’s not just Survival which said the Government had made it all up, countless independent journalists who visited the area confirmed it. The government is trying to clear the Bushmen off their lands for diamond mining and tourism, it’s as simple as that. It’s been trying for thirteen years and might succeed. Survival will intensify its calls for boycotts of diamonds and tourism. Let the consumer decide if he or she wants to be party to the destruction of the Bushmen.’