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Botswana's bushmen win bid to return to their ancestral land

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  • Botswana's bushmen win bid to return to their ancestral land

    Lobatse, Botswana/Johannesburg - - Botswana's indigenous San or Kalahari bushmen on Wednesday won a long-running court bid for the right to return to their ancestral land from which they were evicted by the government in 2002.

    Two out of three judges ruled in favour of the bushmen in the much-anticipated verdict in High Court in Lobatse, some 60 kilometres south of the capital Gaborone.

    Leaders and members of the dwindling community descended from the original inhabitants of the Central Kalahari Game reserve who have in recent years been relocated to nearby settlements with formal housing, schools and health facilities celebrated the verdict at the courthouse.

    'We are very happy, that's what we wanted,' a representative of the Bushman organisation, First People of the Kalahari told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

    The Botswana government have six weeks within which to file an appeal in the High Court.

    It was not immediately clear whether the government would appeal the case that has amounted to the longest and most expensive for Botswana.

    Botswana's Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, the first of three judges to read his ruling, urged for the bushmen's claim to be dismissed saying the government owned the land and that there was evidence they no longer lived the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of their forefathers.

    The second, Judge Unity Dow in a contradictory subsequent ruling, urged for the rights and traditions of the bushmen, a group she said was on the brink of extinction, to be respected.

    'In 2002 they were dispossessed forcibly, unlawfully, and without their consent,' she told the court.

    The outcome remained uncertain for several hours before a third judge also declared the eviction of the bushmen illegal.

    The bushmen with the assistance of Survival International, a London-based lobby group fighting for the rights of aboriginal people worldwide, went to court to oppose the evictions, saying they were being deprived of the land on which their forefathers had lived and hunted for centuries.

    The case has highlighted the second-class status of the bushmen in Botswana society and the social problems, such as high levels of alcohol abuse and unemployment, that are prevalent in the settlements,

    Allegations that the government of the world's largest diamond- producing nation planned to prospect for diamonds in the reserve were met with outrage from government officials who claim the resettlement of the bushmen was aimed at improving their lives.

    The plight of the bushmen also sparked criticism of South African diamond-mining giant De Beers for its partnership with the Botswana government in the diamond-mining sector.

    The company has persistently denied any link between the eviction of the bushmen from land at the centre of the diamond-rich nation and diamond-drilling there.

    The Kalahari bushmen account for almost half of the remaining 100,000 bushmen in southern Africa.

    Botswana's bushmen win bid to return to their ancestral land

  • #2
    Bushmen forced out of the Kalahari desert by Botswana's government won a landmark legal victory today as the country's high court ruled they had been illegally removed and should be allowed to return.

    The panel of three judges ruled 2-1 in favour of the Bushmen, among Africa's last hunter-gatherers, whose fate has attracted widespread international attention.

    Survival International, a British-based pressure group which campaigns for the rights of indigenous and tribal people and has been assisting with the case, hailed the verdict as "a victory for the Bushmen and for indigenous peoples everywhere in Africa".

    The legal battle - the longest in Botswana's history - has been seen as a major test case in establishing the fundamental rights of indigenous people.
    Earlier today, the Bushmen's campaign seemed lost when the high court's chief justice, Maruping Dibotelo, delivered his verdict first and ruled in favour of the government. The Bushmen's supporters assumed the other two more junior judges would follow suit.

    However, they disgreed, granting the Bushmen - also known as the San people - the right to return to what is now the central Kalahari game reserve.

    Judge Mpaphi Phumaphi, who delivered the deciding vote, said the government had been wrong to force the Bushmen into settlement camps. "In my view the simultaneous stoppage of the supply of food rations and the stoppage of hunting licenses is tantamount to condemning the remaining residents of the central Kalahari game reserve to death by starvation," he said.

    The third judge, Unity Dow, ruled that the government had "failed to take account the knowledge and the culture" of the Bushmen when it expelled them.

    But the verdict also said the government was not obliged to provide basic services, such as water, to anyone returning to the reserve.

    The Bushmen's lawyer, Gordon Bennett, welcomed the decision, saying: "It's about the right of the applicants to live inside the reserve as long as they want and that's a marvellous victory."

    A number of Bushmen had trekked overland to the court in Lobatse, just south of Botswana's capital, Gaborone, and some sat in the courtroom to hear the rulings.

    The Bushmen, whose ancestors lived in the Kalahari 20,000 years ago, say they have been forced to resettle in bleak camps to make way for diamond mining, Botswana's most lucrative export.

    They launched a civil lawsuit in April 2002 to try to force the government to let them return to the Kalahari. The initial case was thrown out on a technicality, but in 2004 the high court then agreed to hear the complaint. The government insists the Bushmen have changed their lifestyle so much that they no longer belong in the Kalahari reserve, an animal sanctuary the size of Belgium, and are affecting conservation efforts.

    They are better off in settlements, where they have access to clinics and schools, it says, adding that diamond mining has nothing to do with the decision.

    The government complains that the Bushmen's foreign supporters, including South African anti-apartheid hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and British actors Julie Christie and Colin Firth, are romanticising a hunter-gatherer lifestyle which no longer exists.

    However, Survival International alleges that the Bushmen have been forced out to make way for increased operations by De Beers, the world's biggest diamond mining company, which denies any such plans.

    Discovered in 1967, a year after Botswana gained independence from Britain, diamonds have taken the country from one of the poorest in the world to a per capita annual income of more than £5,000.

    Today's ruling, while going in favour of the Bushmen, said there was no reason to support such claims.

    The government has resettled about 2,000 Bushmen, mostly in 1997 and 2002, and says all but about 24 had voluntarily left the reserve. About half of southern Africa's 100,000 surviving Bushmen live in Botswana.

    Survival International says that more than one in 10 of the original 239 Bushmen who signed up to the legal case have since died in government resettlement camps.

    Kalahari Bushmen win land battle

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    • #3
      Judge Unity Dow, the first woman to be appointed a high court judge in Botswana, talks to 'The Observer' about her ruling to give a tribal group the right to live and hunt in a game reserve:

      Her name is Unity Dow, Judge Unity Dow. But she may remind some of Portia - Shylock's nemesis - for the performance she put on last week for the Bushmen of the Kalahari.

      Last Wednesday Botswana's Bushmen won a historic victory at the end of a four-year legal battle to hold on to their ancestral lands and to hunt game in one of Africa's biggest nature reserves.

      To quote Judge Dow: 'It has turned out to be the most expensive and longest-running trial this country has ever dealt with. It has also attracted a lot of interest as well as a fair amount of bandwagon jumpers, both nationally and internationally, than perhaps any other case has ever done.' Judge Dow, 47, is a phenomenon. She is a successful author, with three published thrillers to her name, and she was the first woman appointed a judge in Botswana. Even before she arrived on the bench she was locally famous, for successfully suing the government to have maternal rights recognised in the country's nationality laws.

      So it was expected by the Batswana (people of Botswana) following last week's day of judgment on national TV and radio broadcasts that there would be fireworks from the judge. And that is what they got, as she despatched some of the personalities in the case. Counsel for the applicants, one Mr Boko 'has not been particularly helpful in this trial, decided he was more effective in criticising the court and other lawyers in the media than in representing his clients in court,' she observed of one lawyer for the Bushmen.

      The Bushmen's leader, Roy Sesana - who distinguished himself for the cameras by wearing antelope's horns - also felt the lash of her tongue. He 'had a lot to say outside the court, but to this court he said absolutely nothing. Outside court, through the media and without the limitations of an oath to tell the truth, he had plenty to say some of which, sadly was pretty ridiculous'.

      Outlining the case Judge Dow said Sesana and his fellow applicants were of 'the San, or Basarwa people' indigenous to the central Kalahari, a vast, unique wilderness in an area in excess of 52,000 sq km. The last census, in 2001, showed the population was 689.

      The reserve was intended as a place where the Bushmen could maintain their way of life as hunter gatherers. 'At the time of the creation of the reserve, though, apartheid South Africa with its racists and segregationist policy, was thriving next door (and) it was considered politically unacceptable to be seen to be creating at best a human reservation and at worst a human zoo,' she said.

      Growing crops and hunting, the Bushmen lived on limited resources Most were classified as destitute by the government, entitling them to food rations, water supplies and the transport of their children to schools outside the reserve. In 1986 the government decided the Bushmen should be relocated outside the reserve, giving assurances to foreign diplomats and the media, among others, that it would be by 'persuasion, not force'. But in 2002 they cut water supplies and brought in police with 29 large trucks to move them.

      There was nothing wrong about the use of police in the exercise, observed Judge Dow. But she said: 'What is curious is the persistent denial by the government's witnesses that there was a police presence.'

      She cited a case where a family had asked that they be allowed to stay to care for a sick relative. Authorities described it as a 'ploy' to stay. 'The question becomes why someone who is not under pressure to relocate would need a ploy to remain,' Judge Dow pointed out. The Bushmen belong to an ethnic group 'that has been historically looked down upon,', said the judge - the names for them 'common terms of insult in the same way as ******' and kaffir'. From the point of view of the government lawyers, 'Sesana and his international friends, notably the NGO backing their case, Survival International, are really the cause of the problems'.

      The government had had to give endless assurances to diplomats with regard to the reserve and its residents. A British lawyer was flown out from England to represent the Bushmen. 'Will it ever stop; you can almost hear the cry, this continued and continuous interference from the West? What is a government to do?' Dow asked rhetorically.

      'The case being judged, though, is not whether slavery was brutish, which it was, or whether colonialism was a system fuelled by a racist and arrogant ideology, which it was, or whether apartheid was diabolical, which it was. It is not even about how high the Botswana government should jump when a Western diplomat challenges or questions its decision.' Survival International and others who had helped the Bushman's cause had merely 'given courage and support to a people who historically were too weak, economically and politically, to question decisions affecting them,' she said.

      Dow said the case was 'ultimately about a people demanding dignity and respect. It is a people saying in essence: "Our way of life may be different, but it is worthy of respect. We may be changing and getting closer to your way of life, but give us a chance to decide what we want to carry with us into the future".'

      Three judges delivered last week's decision in Sesana and Others v the Government of Botswana, broadly finding in favour of the Bushmen. Judge Unity Dow was one of them. Portia had spoken.

      Judge Unity Dow on Botswana's most expensive trial

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      • #4
        A group of Kalahari Bushmen, one of the oldest tribal societies in the world, have returned to their ancestral hunting grounds after defeating international diamond mining companies and the government of Botswana in an historic court decision.

        Forty Bushmen managed to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in the arid heart of southern Africa, despite a heavy police presence and attempts to persuade them to stay in relocation camps. "Today is the same day for us as Nelson Mandela when he won South Africa," said Roy Sesana, as he stepped back on to the land where his forefathers have lived for 20,000 years.

        The Gana and Gwi Bushmen had managed to preserve their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. But when diamonds were discovered at a community called Gope in the 1980s, De Beers bought the right to mine there. Gradually, the Bushmen were forced off their land to live in relocation camps. Alcoholism and HIV/Aids became rife.

        While the head of De Beers in Botswana, Sheila Khama, told The Independent on Sunday that "we are certain that our diamond mining activities were nothing to do with the removal of these people from the Kalahari", the company's presence attracted criticism from several high-profile supporters of the Bushmen.

        The Somalia-born supermodel Iman stood down as the face of De Beers, explaining: "It was clear the Bushmen were being destroyed." Tomorrow sees the UK release of the film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, to whom the Bushmen appealed for support last September. "Your film shows how badly diamonds hurt," Roy Sesana told him in an open letter.

        Last month, the Bushmen won a three-year court case when the High Court declared their eviction from their land "unlawful and unconstitutional". The first group of 40 Bushmen is preparing the way for others to leave the relocation camps and return to their traditional way of life.

        Jumanda Gakelebone, one of the group, said: "We are happy to see this after a long time. We are going back home to our ancestral land, and our ancestors will be happy."

        Bushmen start to return to ancestral lands

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