The G/wi and the other San peoples of the Kalahari who are being persecuted by the government of Botswana have decided to take their case to the International Court of Justice. Roy Sesana, leader of First People of the Kalahari, an advocacy organization for southern African indigenous groups, announced last week that they would abandon any further attempts to resolve their grievances through the Botswana courts or by negotiations with the national government.
He said that his group has tried to mediate the dispute for several years. The San took the government into the High Court of Botswana because they were illegally exiled from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and moved forcefully into squalid resettlement centers outside it. The government denies that they removed the San from their homes for any reasons other than the welfare of the wildlife in the reserve and the health of the San people themselves.
A lot of evidence suggests, however, that the reason for the removals was that the government wanted to make sure there were no competing claims to the anticipated mineral wealth if and when diamonds were mined in the Kalahari. There are precedents in other nations for indigenous claims to profit sharing from such mining contracts. Botswana evidently wanted to forestall that possibility.
In 2006, the High Court of Botswana ruled against the government, but the court could not force the government to honor its mandate. Since then, government agencies have hassled and abused the G/wi, trying to prevent them in every way possible from resettling back into their homelands. The people were not allowed to use water from functioning boreholes, which government agents subsequently destroyed. This despite the fact that nearby tourist resorts are allowed to bore for water and run their businesses, as long as they do not share the water with indigenous San peoples living in the area. Also, the San have often been denied the hunting permits that the High Court had mandated.
Mr. Sesana said that he was the one who had initiated a much-publicized meeting with Botswana President Ian Khama and some of his cabinet ministers in 2008. He was inspired by the new President’s comments about reviving culture in the country. “I told him Basarwa [another term for the San people] culture was destroyed from 1997-2000 during the removals from the CKGR. I told him now I’m happy to hear that ‘you want to revive culture.’ I requested for our cultural homes as Basarwa, we wanted our land.”
At the same time, the San launched another attempt in the Botswana High Court seeking to force the government to grant them water, hunting rights, and the other amenities they need. All of these efforts appear to have stalled, and the San leaders have run out of patience.
Sesana summarized the long term pattern of official abuse and concluded, “We are convinced we should now go back to the courtroom, but it will be a different court room, not in Botswana. We want our matter to be heard by an international court this time.” He feels that the Botswana court is insensitive to San persecutions.
He argued that the treatment of the G/wi has been comparable to the way the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe treated Morgan Tsvangirai, when the latter won the recent national election. Sesana would prefer that the minority people of Botswana be treated as people were in South Africa when Nelson Mandela’s victory ended apartheid and everyone in that nation gained their freedom.
Government officials have tried to prompt the San leaders to distance themselves from Survival International, the minority rights NGO headquartered in England that has championed their cause for many years. Some disagreements had developed between the two groups, but it now appears as if they have found common cause once again.
Sesana indicated that, while he was negotiating with the government, he was irritated by its request that he should visit the various San communities spread across the desert and find two people from each to serve as representatives on a consultative committee which would work with the government. He fumed, why should they expect him to walk vast distances across the desert to visit those widespread communities?
Sesana’s exasperation is very clear from the tone of his comments to the press. He described the difficulties the G/wi are having finding water in the old way, by wandering in the desert searching for tubers so they can survive, as their parents did many years ago.