The G/wi and G//ana people have appealed to Pope Benedict XVI for help in prompting the government of Botswana to allow them to return to their homes. Botswana and the Vatican have recently established diplomatic relations, a move that was initiated by the previous President of the country, Festus Mogae. A spokesman for the San people said, “we beg the Pope to help, to pray for us so that [the] government changes its attitude towards us and respects our rights as indigenous peoples of this land.”
While Mogae was president, he initiated the Botswana policy of expelling the San people from their desert homes, allegedly to help them live better, or to help restore the wildlife in the Kalahari—the official story depended on which version suited the government’s purposes. The reality was that the government was hoping for royalties from diamond exploration and mining, and it did not want to share them with the indigenous San peoples who have lived in the Kalahari for millennia.
In December 2006 the two San societies finally won a long-delayed victory in the country’s highest court, affirming that they had the right to live in their former homes. Since then, however, the government has hindered them from returning by prohibiting them from using the water or from hunting.
The Catholic Church has begun taking an active role in assisting indigenous peoples in their claims against repressive government actions, according to a press release issued by Survival International last Thursday. SI repeats a statement by a bishop of the Xingu people of Brazil, that the church is supporting indigenous societies throughout the world. On July 1, the Pope met with some Brazilian indigenous peoples and told them, “we will do everything possible to help protect your land.” The G/wi hope, that he might also support them, seems quite reasonable.