The G/wi appeal to Botswana’s highest court over their expulsion from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) has generated a lot of publicity this past week. However, it is not clear if the international concern about the traditional San society will help them at all.
The G/wi and the G//ana, another San society, argue that the Botswana constitution guarantees their rights to their traditional lands in the CKGR, and the government violated the law when it expelled them. Their court suit to recover their lands has been covered in these news pages on January 27 and April 28 this year.
On May 25 the news source Scoop reported on some damning testimony presented to the court by Jan Broekhuis, Assistant Director of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Mr. Broekhuis admitted in court that he had ignored a 2001 appeal from the two San groups that they would be willing to maintain their own water supplies at no cost to the government. The government has claimed that the San peoples had to be expelled because providing water was “too expensive.”
Broekhuis also revealed, under cross-examination, that the government had mis-represented figures for the numbers of wildlife in the Reserve. The government has claimed that the San peoples had been harming wildlife in the CKGR, but he admitted in court that the figures were not reliable. The lawyers for the San also pointed out that the expulsion in 1997, justified by the government as furthering the “development” of the San, had only worsened their living conditions in the intervening years.
As might have been expected, the government has not been taking the international criticism and the negative court testimony lying down. President Festus Mogae, quoted on Idexonline, “angrily denounced” Survival International, one of the major NGOs supporting the case of the G/wi and the G//ana. In an address in Mumbai (Bombay), at an international diamond conference called “Mines to Market,” Mogae stated that “dodgy outsiders will not dictate to us what to do.”
Railing against Survival International, Mogae added that “innuendo and lies are being propagated by this NGO but the government will do what is right for all its citizens.” Clearly quite irritated by the progress of the court case, and the international attention focused on the treatment of the minority citizens in his country, the president defended his government’s decision to push the San out of the CKGR because diamond exploration work needed to go on all over the country. “We will develop diamonds for the good of all Botswanans,” he maintained.
A more restrained report from the government yesterday, June 1, carried by the Daily News, the official press agency, covered the court testimony of Joseph Mathare, former director for Wildlife and National Parks. Mr. Mathare quoted from several earlier reports prepared by various experts in 1961 and 1985 that he believes supported the government’s case. These reports apparently criticized some of the traditional San land management techniques, such as keeping domestic animals and burning underbrush in order to allow more desirable plant species to grow better. It is not clear if he discussed the potential wisdom of traditional land management techniques, animal husbandry, or fire management strategies.
A more explosive news story yesterday was the final expulsion order, confirmed in Botswana’s courts, that an Australian academic named Kenneth Good has finally been expelled from the country. Good, a professor in the Political and Administrative Studies Department of the University of Botswana, published a report in April 2004 called Bushmen and Diamonds: (Un) Civil Society in Botswana that was highly critical of the government’s treatment of the San people. In another report more recently, he ventured to criticize the manner in which Botswana’s presidents have been hand-picking their successors.
His recent report so angered the president that Mogae, on February 18, personally signed an order for his deportation. Good sought to appeal the order through various legal means, but his appeals were finally ended on May 31 when the last court judge denied his claims and denied him the right to make any further appeals. That story was carried by many international news sources, such as the Sydney Morning Herald and afrol News, but it has been of considerable interest in Botswana as well.
For instance, a letter in a major Botswana newspaper, Mmegi, on March 16 showed the other side of the story. The writer strongly condemned the interference by Prof. Good in his country’s affairs and wished that he would be speedily sent back to Australia. He fulminated about the criticism by the United States and Australia of Botswana’s treatment of its minority peoples, and he pointed out that the way the Australians treat their minorities and the Americans their prisoners at Guantanamo give them no grounds to point fingers at Botswana. “Good should go back to Australia,” he declared. He did not directly address the justice of the San case against the government.
Tension is obviously rising as Botswana’s highest court continues to hear testimony. With the growing focus on the court case this year, the government introduced a bill in April before parliament to change the constitution by removing the guarantee for the indigenous inhabitants to their traditional lands in the CKGR, the foundation of their legal claims. According to a news report on April 29, the bill has had two readings. The third, expected soon, will destroy the basis of the G/wi and G//ana suit, effectively killing their last chance of redress from their expulsion.
None of the articles in the media last week indicate when the court will come to a decision—nor, of course, whether their decision will really help the G/wi and the //Gana to reclaim their lands. But at least President Mogae is being honest now. The previous story, that expelling the San from the CKGR was for their own good, is gone, much like the Australian professor. The search for diamonds will probably dictate the results.