While Monday was a holiday in rural Pennsylvania—the opening day of rifle buck season—last weekend brought no joy to the G/wi hunters of the Kalahari. In fact, they want to regain their traditional hunting rights, so they are planning to take the Botswana government into court once again.
During the past couple of months, Botswana wildlife officials have been persecuting the G/wi hunters. On October 5, a San human rights organization reported that about 10 men from one of the resettlement camps outside the borders of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve had been arrested and beaten by wildlife managers. Their crime? They allegedly had been hunting.
One man, Motsoko Ramahoko, claimed that he had been tortured by the wildlife officials to force him to admit his crime. He had been one of the people who had testified against the government in the landmark case that was decided last December in favor of the San peoples and against the government. He had told Survival International last year after the court ruling, “I am just so happy and I am wanting to go back to my land.” News reports indicated that at least 43 San people—many of them G/wi—had been arrested so far this year for hunting.
The Director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, commented in early October that while the beatings by wildlife officials used to be quite common, they had eased off after the court ruling last December. But they have started again. The pattern of abusive treatment of the minority peoples, Corry said, contradicts not only the high court decision in Botswana, but also the UN declaration of indigenous rights that Botswana has recently supported. In other matters, Botswana is a proponent of basic human rights.
Toward the end of October, the news got worse. Survival International reported additional details about the incident at the beginning of the month. It turns out that 15 men had been arrested and 10 of them had been tortured by the government agents. The total of men arrested for hunting this year is now up to 53, and not a single man has been granted a permit to hunt, despite the high court ruling that the refusal of the government to issue hunting permits was illegal.
Details about the torture are grim. Three of the men were made to run for hours through the desert heat, pursued by the wildlife agents in their vehicles. The officials vigorously beat, kicked, and punched the G/wi. The news story gives sickening information about the torturing of those three plus the other G/wi men who were abused.
A guard told one man, whose picture accompanies the article, “if you don’t tell us the truth that you killed an eland we will do to you what we did to Selelo,” another hunter who was tortured to death in 2005 by the wildlife guards. Stephen Corry, adding his own analysis to the account, said that the policy of the government “couldn’t be clearer—to terrorize the Bushmen so that they’re too afraid to go home. It’s a policy that is both brutal, and doomed to failure.”
On Tuesday last week the San people reported that they were planning to take the government to court “within a matter of weeks,” if it continues to prevent them from returning to their homeland. It not only arrests and tortures hunters, it refuses to let the people use the water at the boreholes near their villages and it won’t provide transportation so they can get back to their homes.
The San organization that is spearheading the fight, First People of the Kalahari, stated, “We do not want to keep fighting in the courts. That is not the way to resolve problems. But we feel we have no other option. We are desperate.”
On Friday, November 23, the government denied all the accusations. Spokesman Clifford Mariba said that “every bushman is free to go home, we have always made our stance clear….Those who have opted to remain at their current settlements have remained behind to enjoy a wide range of social amenities offered by the government.” He said that hunting licenses had been issued to the G/wi. He also said that, while the court decision did not compel the government to provide water for the San people, they were free to bring in water if they wished.