Govt. Closes Kalahari, Keeps Bushmen Out

150 150 Rapaport News

(Rapaport…September 1, 2005) Botswana denies that it engaged any “crack down” behavior to drive out the last few hundred San (Bushmen) from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve during August.

Government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay said, Botswana is enforcing regulations against all hunting activity involving guns. Botswana closed the Central Kalahari Game Reserve until further notice on September 1.

The Kalahari region is seen by Botswana as a wildlife refuge and the government has not ruled out diamond mining on the reserve, a loophole that Survival International says is the real reason behind ousting the San.

Press reports from Botswana say the government halted property access to the San during August. All visitors must have a permit according to governmnet regulations, and unrestricted access is not allowed.

The San’s lawyer, Gordon Bennett, was refused a permit to enter the reserve to meet with his clients. Ramsay told Reuters that charges in court today are not about the San, but involves people in New Xade, a resettlement area outside of the Kalahari.

Nearly 2,000 say they were forced out years ago, but a handful of San held fast in the reserve and continue to live off the land. If they step out of the reserve, they are not allowed back inside. About 240 Bushman sued Botswana for illegally removing them from ancestral lands for the purpose of mining diamonds in 2002. The case has been tied up in court ever since.

While the court recessed in July, the judge asked for inspection of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, near Gope settlement, to determine whether or not diamonds were being mined. The High Court determined that no current mining was taking place at Gope.

On August 29, state witness, Kathleen Alexander said she supported Botswana’s plan to relocate the San outside of the reserve saying that the Bushmen have strained the reserve’s ecology and natural resources.

Self-described as an expert veterinarian and ecologist, Alexander said that San no longer hunt with bows and arrows, but they instead ride horses and use spears to hunt game. She suggested that the Bushmen would benefit from socio-economic status provided by educational resources, healthcare, and permanent buildings. Alexander is president of Centre for Conservation of African Resources, she has a doctoral degree from the University of California and is a citizen of the United States.

The licenses for four radio communication stations inside the reserve came due September 1, and the government did not renew the permits. The San use the system to communicate within the reserve, according to press reports.

The Botswana government has told the press that they are only applying the same rules to the San as they do to all citizens; which means no radio broadcast licenses are issued inside the reserve.

Recent restrictions by Botswana, says Bennett, eliminate communication for the San and thus he runs the risk of having to withdraw the case against Botswana.

In early August the United Nations urged Botswana to work with the San and settle the dispute. Rodolfo Stavenhagen of the United Nations said that on legal grounds the San held a strong case for unlawful eviction.

Survival International announced on September 1 that it was calling for a boycott of tourism to Botswana. It also claims that Botswana’s defense attorney, Sidney Pilane, fled state arrest; however, at press time Rapaport News was not able to confirm this statement.

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