“The San Bushmen represent a 100,000 year-old culture that we should consider one of the world’s treasures,” said Desmond Tutu in a recent statement about the G/wi and G//ana people. Archbishop Tutu made his dramatic appeal on November 6 to the government of Botswana and the rest of the world to end the tragic eviction of the G/wi and G//ana from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). His statement urging that they be allowed to return to their homes is available on a video released by an advocacy group for the two societies.
The First People of the Kalahari (FPK), an organization formed by the G/wi and G//ana, has opened a new website so they can tell their own story. One of the dramatic features of the website is Tutu’s three and one-half minute video appeal. The site also contains the written text of his comments.
Another feature of the site, perhaps even more dramatic, is a group of tiny thumbnail photos of the San victims. Over 400 people are shown, and as a visitor to the site mouses over each picture (in Internet Explorer—it doesn’t work as well in Firefox), the name of the individual appears in a text box. In many of the boxes, a personal statement also appears, some of them fairly lengthy and eloquent. There are at least 400 very real people shown, all of whom just want to go home. The website also contains half a dozen more lengthy, personal, appeals.
The High Court of Botswana is expected to issue its decision in mid-December to conclude the case the San people have brought before the court asking that they be allowed to return to their lands in the CKGR. This issue has been covered in numerous earlier news stories in this website, and in recent weeks international concerns and pressures have continued.
On November 15, Survival International (SI), a London-based advocacy group, announced that a 29 year old San woman, evicted with her family from the CKGR nearly 10 years ago, had died of AIDS. She told SI earlier, when she knew she was going to die, that “we were the first people from Molapo to be evicted. Here in New Xade [the resettlement ghetto] there are different kinds of diseases that we do not recognize … When you get sick, you die.”
Jumanda Gakelebone of FPK commented about the woman’s death, “so many of our people are dying in the resettlement camps. We did not know this disease of AIDS before we were evicted from our land. This is what the government’s ‘development’ means for us.” A recent international medical journal article focuses on the very same issue—the health implications of discrimination against indigenous peoples in Africa.
SI also announced last week that diamond exploration has finally started in the CKGR. Despite the past protestations by President Festus Mogae of Botswana that the San people were removed from their lands to promote their own health and education, the fact that the issue is really based on diamond prospecting is now confirmed. Petra Diamonds has identified diamond-bearing rocks near Gope, an area where the San people used to live. Petra stated that the area around Gope is “known to host strongly diamondiferous kimberlites,” a rock that often contains diamonds. TH Drilling, acting on behalf of Petra, has confirmed that it is actively exploring now in the CKGR.
An interesting added twist to this drama is that the issue has become highly politicized. An important opposition party in Botswana, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), has attacked the government for its treatment of the G/wi and G//ana people. The deputy head of the BCP, Dr. Kesetigile Gabotswang, has demanded that the government allow the evicted San people to return to their homes. He argues that government claims about the San are unconvincing. He believes that the government of his country is “proving difficult to trust,” as it ignores “the concerns of eminent persons like Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.”
Bishop Tutu concluded his statement earlier this month with his signature attempt at reconciling and reaching out to all sides of an issue like this: “Humankind cares about the future of the San Bushmen,” he said. “The Botswana Government has always shown that it cares for its people and we pray that this may continue to be the case. We urge the Botswana Government to find new ways to achieve progress, a model for Africa and the rest of the world.” The world will find out in a few weeks if his sentiments will be accepted by the Botswana government.