The State, Mining and the Community: The Case of Basarwa of the CKGR
by MOTSUMI MAROBELE
History of the Basarwa Relocation
The history of the Basarwa, or San as they are often referred, is a history of dispossession of land and persecution by dominant ethnic groups, governments and capitalists, both local and foreign. It has also been a struggle to survive harsh brutalisation and marginalization. Above all, it has been a fight for respect and dignity of the Basarwa way of life (See Justice Unity Dow in her ruling in the case between Roy Sesana and Others v. Attorney General High Court of Botswana at Lobatse, MISCA No, 52-2002: 13 December 2006) which has been made more difficult with the discovery and exploitation of diamonds. Basarwa are among the poorest people in the world, yet they have had and still do have enormous resources. Their impoverishment is a result of a set of deliberate systemic social and economic policies that has promoted the exploitation of the original inhabitants of Southern Africa and the plunder of their resources.
This treatment of Basarwa is a global phenomenon that goes way back to the fifteenth century when Africans paid heavily for the consequences of wars waged for imperialist accumulation in the West – accumulation which Basarwa had nothing to do with. It was, therefore, not at all surprising that in his recent visit to Botswana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s assessment restated that Basarwa remain landless and impoverished as result of historical injustice which still prevails (Anaya,2010) Although Basarwa are a minority of the population today, they are the indigenous people of Southern Africa, living in various locations in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Their culture and mode of production as hunter- gatherers require they move around, drawing from natural resources to sustain their livelihood.
Basarwa and other ethnic groups such as the Bakalaka, Bayei regarded as minorities, were not accorded the same rights conferred by the Tribal Land Act of 1968.
The dominant Tswana ethnic groups were allowed land rights through, for example, land boards named according to their ethnicity, such as the Ngwato, the Tawana, Tlokweng and Kgatleng Land Boards. There is, however, no such land board for Basarwa. This is an act of exclusion and, by extension, a denial of the right to land ownership. Basarwa have traditionally been mobile hunter gatherers and have been labeled as having neither a permanent space nor their own land. This notion is heavily contested, however. Kiema (2010) argues that the issue of land ownership is actually the result of an absence of documentation. He asserts that Basarwa have inhabited the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) long before it was declared a game reserve by government. He thus takes issue with history, which regards Basarwa as landless people (Tlou and Campbell, 1984). The CKGR is a vast expanse of land encompassing 52,800 square kilometers (1/16 of Botswana’s total land area) and is the second largest game reserve in the world. It was established in 1961 by the British Colonial government nominally to protect wildlife resources and to provide Basarwa, a community of approximately 49,000 people, with land to continue their hunter- gatherer way of life (Good, 2009; Anaya, 2010; Saugestad, 2001). The post-colonial government originally supported Baswara’s presence in the CKGR, which was enshrined in Botswana’s Bill of Rights (Ng’ong’ola, 1997). The hardening of the government’s policy on Basarwa of the CKGR can be traced to the tenure of President Quett Masire (1980-1998). In 1997, and continuing to 2002, Basarwa residing within the CKGR were forcibly relocated to resettlement camps outside of the reserve, the government citing the improvement of Basarwa’s development prospects and the need to preserve wildlife in the reserve as the reasons for the resettlement (Resneck, 2009). Those Basarwa who resisted experienced torture and killings and were forced into open trucks. When relocation ended in 2002, the government capped the borehole, the only source of water for communities residing there. Official government figures indicate that in 1997, 1239 Basarwa were relocated to new settlements located in Kg’oesakene (New Xade) and 500 to Kaudwane, outside the southern border of the CKGR. New Xade is located about 100 km from Ghanzi, the district capital, and 70 km from Xade, the former settlement in the CKGR for most of the residents. In 2002, according to official figures, 342 people were relocated to New Xade, 179 to Kaudwane, 17 to Xere, a new settlement in the Central District (Saugestad, 2005). The First People of the Kgalagadi (FPK), an advocacy group for Basarwa in Botswana, which was formed in 1991, began to organize Basarwa to defend themselves and reclaim their land. In 2002, Basarwa of the CKGR, through FPK, took the Government of Botswana to court to protect their right to live in the reserve and enjoy rich natural resources.
In December 2006, the Botswana High Court ruled that the refusal to allow Basarwa into the CKGR without permit and the refusal to issue game licenses to allow them to hunt on their ancestral lands was unlawful and unconstitutional. The court further ruled Basarwa were “unlawfully despoiled of their possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in their settlements in the CKGR” by the government (Botswana High Court, 2006). Although the High Court ruled that government acted unlawfully in forcing Basarwa to relocate and asserted their constitutional right to live in their ancestral land, Botswana government still denies Basarwa the right to live freely in the reserve.
While many, as of 2006, intended to return, so far only limited numbers have been allowed to do so. FPK leader Roy Sesana and the 243 other Basarwa who lodged the application to sue the government are restricted from residing in the CKGR (Kiema, 2010). The ruling did not require the government to provide services such as water to any who returned. Basarwa cannot use government boreholes inside the reserve that the government presently uses to provide water to wildlife and are not allowed to drill a new borehole and therefore are forced to travel 40 kilometers outside the reserve to obtain water (BBC, July 21, 2010). Basarwa applied to the High Court to regain access to the borehole they once used. In July 2010, the High Court ruled that Basarwa do not have the right to re-open the borehole or to drill another one.
Colonialism, Dispossession and Mining In Southern Africa, imperialist accumulation began around the mid-seventeenth century when the Dutch occupied the Cape, the land of Basarwa whom the Dutch called the Hottentots (Mitchison, 1970). Imperialism profoundly changed the lives of millions of people. Pastoralists and hunter-gatherers who lived a simple life at peace with the natural eco-system had their lives ruined by the colonial powers.
Deeper and more devastating change was to come with the development of the extractive industry. The discovery of gold and diamonds heralded a new phase of imperialist accumulation (Marobela, 2007). Gold was crucial for imperial powers because it was a measure of wealth, hence the gold standard. Despite the enormous wealth that came with mining capitalism, ordinary miners remained poor, malnourished and ravaged by diseases such as cirrhosis and tuberculosis. To fully grasp the impact of colonialism and its underdevelopment of Botswana, it is important to see the imperative of capital (Shillington, 1985). Essentially capital was mediated by mining and ranching as mechanisms of uprooting peasants from their lands, by looting their stock of cattle, sheep and goats, and by depleting natural resources such as wood, which were an important source of energy to fire the mines.
More crucially, British rule enforced the ‘hut tax,’ which forced natives to pay a tax in cash for the huts they were living in. The majority of these taxes went to paying administration costs to maintain colonial staff, a mechanism that helped to sustain the flow of black labour. Capital accumulation is driven by the compulsion to make profit. Therefore, it is obvious that the stolen land provided the means of production, the ‘means of life’ as Dowd (2000) refers to it. Dispossession meant that many peasants and producers became wage-labourers and therefore were subject to exploitation. Business was exclusively reserved for whites as Africans were left without the means of production and were forced to find employment to obtain cash to pay imperial taxes (Maylam, 1980). This colonial strategy contributed to the need for labour in the mining boom in South Africa.
In effect, local people became a prime but cheap commodity of an international mining accumulation. Migrant labour provided profits for the mining industry in South Africa and “wages did not have to be subsistence level because the costs of having and rearing children, feeding and housing families, and caring for the elderly and disabled were largely borne by the people in the protectorate (Parson, 1984). It was this imperative that attracted the mining capitalists like Cecil Rhodes to Bechuanaland to obtain cheap labour from migrant workers to boost the profitability of diamond mining in Kimberly (Shillington, 1985). Indigenous people were exploited in particular. The demand for this labour increased rapidly, generating more profits for capital. The State, Mining and Community The state has always played a crucial role in furthering capital accumulation. In Southern Africa, both the pre- and post- colonial states have sought to intervene through policy to shape and transform work relations into repressive and exploitative forms to sustain accumulation of capital (Gool, 1983) and defend multinational corporations who pay levies and royalties. Moreover, some governments depend heavily on income from migrant labour remittances which are taxed, such as the case of Lesotho and Mozambique.
There is widespread reliance among governments in Sub-Saharan Africa on foreign investment to develop their resources. Most of the investment is in primary products, which are extracted mainly by Western multinationals or local companies in partnership with multinationals, perpetuating a cycle of uneven development between the rich and poor countries. The Botswana case is similar, however, the Government of Botswana is not just a rentier state but in the business of accumulation as well, a phenomenon which could be linked to state capitalism (See Cliff, 1984). In this context, the government is not merely providing the infrastructure necessary for private sector activity, but participates in profiteering in the mineral sector as the state became an equal partner when it established a joint venture diamond-mining company with DeBeers in 1967 following the discovery of diamonds.
This became the De Beers Botswana Mining Company (Debswana), a private company that is now the world’s leading diamond producer, making Botswana a major player in the international diamond market. While the government uses some of the mineral revenue to provide social services to communities, the state is also an exploiter in this relationship. Former president Festus Mogae metaphorically defined the relationship between De Beers and Botswana like that of Siamese twins, which is not surprising given that Botswana has a 15% stake in De Beers. The Government of Botswana tolerated the mass dismissal of 461 Debswana workers who requested a fair bonus. Botswana’s economy is highly dependent on diamonds and attempts to diversify the economy have so far not been successful (Marobela, 2008).
It is this dependence that explains government’s defense of mining capitalists such as De Beers when their own people are attacked. The recent revelations by De Beers that they funded Botswana Democratic Party, the ruling party campaigns and also provided the former president of Botswana, Quett Masire, with 4 million Pula to persuade him to resign demonstrates how politics, money and corporate power mingle in Botswana at the highest level (Sunday Standard, 17 January 2009). Mining, Nationalism and the Relocation of the Basarwa In many countries the lives of indigenous people like Basarwa are continuously threatened by dominant ethnic groups who have used them as virtual slaves on farms, homes and lands to help with child care and cattle rearing. But it has been the Government of Botswana, which has failed to protect the Basarwa through its various policies, particularly in the areas of land and wildlife.
The government claims to promote the development of all citizens, but the question should be asked, whose development? Invariably, according to Basarwa, official conceptions of development negate their interests, as they are viewed as ‘primitive’ or ‘uncivilised.’ Basarwa have, therefore, not been able to shape their own development. A study by the Botswana Christian Council showed that there are fundamental differences between the government and Basarwa on core development issues.
For example, while the Basarwa see themselves as the original inhabitants of Botswana, the indigenous of the country (Mogwe, 1992), the government has stated that all Batswana are indigenous. It is on the issue of land ownership and control over wildlife where views diverge the most. Government settlement policy is premised on the view that Basarwa must move because they are causing depletion of wild animals. Basarwa’s position is articulated by the FPK leader Roy Sesana, who declares: “we the Basarwa are the great ecologists, we depend on nature and therefore we cannot destroy our means of sustenance; today the existence of game in abundance illustrates this.” Another point of disagreement between the government and Basarwa is in respect to Basarwa culture.
Basarwa contend that the government disrespects its culture and is determined to destroy it, and them as a people. For Basarwa, their life is rooted in the environment and development should take into account their cultural, medicinal and spiritual practices. They strongly oppose government attempts to mainstream and commodify their culture. In official events it is common to see other Batswana emulating Basarwa’s music, arts and culture. The gulf between the government and the Basarwa widened with the forceful relocation from their ancestral lands in CKGR. The government suggested Basarwa should relocate to promote community development and allow increased access to amenities such as water, hospitals and schools. Basarwa argue, on the other hand, that they do not need to be moved for development to occur but developments should come to them, as has been the case with other groups in Botswana.
Central to the issue of relocation and development has been the government’s notion that Basarwa should move out of the reserve because they cannot live with wild animals in the reserve. Basarwa consistently assert that they have coexisted with wildlife for many years without any negative impact on the wildlife population. Basarwa are different from the dominant tribes or ethnic groups who signed the Mineral Rights in Territories Act of 1967 which gave their right to land ownership to the state. Basarwa did not. They were not consulted nor did they give consent to the government.
As a result, the government does not have legal power to extract minerals from their land (Kiema 2010). The failure by the government to provide Basarwa community with clear answers created suspicions about the government’s motivations for the relocation. Basarwa and Survival International, the organisation which provided funding for the lawsuit, has linked the relocation to diamond mining and tourism, emphasising that Basarwa were moved from their land to pave the way for diamond mining.
Initially, both the government and De Beers denied this accusation and dismissed it as an attempt to label Botswana diamonds as ‘blood diamonds.’ At a 2002 seminar held by Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, this question was posed to the then Managing Director of De Beers, Sheila Khama, whose response was evasive: ...With regard to whether or not massive deposits of diamonds have been found within the Kalahari Game Reserve, we have, as De Beers, been exploring the country for 45 years, but we haven’t found massive deposits. That is not to say that they are not there, there are techniques and technologies that are developed everyday that may well prove us wrong in the long term… The government also denied the persistent claims that Basarwa were being moved to make way for diamond mining and did so as late as 2005: “there is no mining nor any plans for future mining anywhere inside the CKGR” (as cited in Saugestad, 2005).
Yet, kimberlite pipes had been discovered in 1981, feasibility studies completed in 1998 and prospecting licenses issued in 1992, and again in 1994. A Retention License was issued in 2001, then 2003, suspended in 2006 but the suspension was lifted in 2007 when an application was made to the government for a mining license (Gem Diamonds Ltd., 2009). De Beers announced that it sold its exploration interest in Gope, a previous Basarwa settlement in the CKGR, to Gem Diamonds Ltd for $34 million US in May 2007.
According to Gem Diamonds, Gope is “an attractive asset that will add significant value to its shareholders” (Mukumbira, 25 October, 2007). The ‘acquisition will give it an opportunity to develop a long life mine with resources indicated at 79 million tons with an estimated value of $121 US per carat’ (Mukumbira, May 29, 2007). Gem Diamonds Ltd publicly announced its intention to start mining in CKGR and received approval for its environmental impact assessment report in October 2008 (GEM website, 2009). These developments have infuriated Basarwa who have claimed since the onset of the relocation that the government was planning on allowing diamond mining on CKGR land: “[the] government owes us an apology, they lied to us that there were no diamonds in our land and that they were not moving us for mining. So where did diamonds come from suddenly? Were they dropped from the air by an airplane? (Sesana, 2008)”. Even when the court judged that Basarwa are legally allowed to occupy land in the CKGR and therefore can return, little has changed. For Sesana, the decision by the High Court not to state that government should provide them with basic facilities like water is a setback: How can we live without water? Are we not like other Batswana, who are provided water by government? Only Basarwa can be treated in this way because they are nothing. Is this democracy? I don’t understand. We don’t know where we are right know after this case. This judgment is confusing us. When the court said this is our land and government says we cannot dig our water were we given land between the soil and the space. Basarwa argue that this denial of basic services by government, which claims to promote development, reinforces their argument that they are being discriminated against.
Further, they contend that, compared to other ethnic groups, Basarwa have been relocated by the government to pave the way for development many times. Government officials continually stress that other communities have been moved in the name of development in the past. However, compared to other ethnic groups, the Basarwa have lost land in many parts of Botswana for mining, tourism or farming.
For example, Botswana’s prime diamond mines like Jwanaeng, Orapa and Lethakane were previously Basarwa lands. An additional concern is that the government used an appeal to nationalism and patriotism to rally people behind its forced relocation and to justify the settlement policy. Those who refused to tow the government line were branded as unpatriotic. In the end, this succeeded in isolating Basarwa. Such a nationalist agenda is unsympathetic to indigenous people.
Only Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) has broken with the nationalistic consensus prompted by the ruling party. They took a principled position in support of Basarwa, when they recently demanded basic human rights for Basarwa residing in CKGR and boldly stated that BMD would support Survival International if their reasons are valid, for example provision of Basarwa with water. The BMD has taken a significant step as it opens up a wider platform to discuss the plight of Basarwa rights in the CKGR. They did what established opposition parties: BNF and BCP dared before (Mmereki, No 26, January 2011). Resistance The Government of Botswana has treated Basarwa in a paternalistic manner. Former President Festus Mogae once described Basarwa as “Stone Age creatures who must change or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish” (The Sunday Herald, 27 November, 2009). More recently, President Ian Khama referred to them as primitive (Mmegi, 16 December, 2010). Of course Basarwa want to embrace development and progress. Their main concern is ownership and control of their land, including natural resources like wild animals.
All this is woven into their culture and values, which among others include hunting animals and collecting wild berries and food. Hence, their insistence that they should be free to hunt animals on their land, a controversial issue that has pitted them against government wildlife officers who see them as poachers and therefore, “enforce the stringent rules concerning what they may hunt and how the animals should be hunted” (Mogwe, 1992). Basarwa are opposed to the government’s conception of development which has been imposed upon them. They want education and hospitals but not in exchange for their land.
Basarwa children were taken to government boarding schools at a very early age ostensibly to provide care and reduce the long distances they walked to schools. These children are taught by non-Basarwa teachers in a foreign language. In line with government policy of corporal punishment, they are beaten, which is generally not practiced in their culture. As a result, most of these children do not return to school after the holidays. Undoubtedly, it is in defence of their main source of food, their wildlife that Basarwa have resisted vigorously, sometimes at great cost to their lives. Some of Basarwa have been tortured, imprisoned and some have died as a result of brutal treatment by wildlife scouts.
However, the largest historical and active resistance waged by Basarwa is with respect to the CKGR, which culminated in Basarwa taking the government to court in 2004.
This resistance movement was started by John Hardbattle, who founded the First People of the Kalahari (FPK). Unfortunately, Hardbattle died before the case was resolved. However, this gap was filled by Roy Sesana, who, together with his comrades in the FPK, waged a relentless campaign on the CKGR.
The Basarwa were pitted against a government with lots of money and many bureaucrats with varied expertise and assistance from paid foreign campaign consultants. For example, Debswana engaged a powerful PR company, Hill and Knowlton to counter Basarwa campaign (Rebaone, 2005). After being betrayed by the main opposition party, the Botswana National Front, in which Roy Sesana was an active member, Basarwa had no choice but to seek solidarity and assistance from foreign sympathisers. The London-based Survival International (SI), which is an NGO that “helps tribal peoples defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures” provided the Basarwa with extensive support (SI website).
Civil society groups within Botswana were generally not only weak organisationally, but those who sided with the Basarwa were labeled as unpatriotic (Moabi, 23 November, 2006). Ditshwanelo (The Botswana Centre for Human Rights) and the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) also provided critical support for the Basarwa. These organisations, however, were uncomfortable with FPK’s relationship with Survival International, which the government used to support its own case: “Some foreign organisations’ were campaigning were against our country’s sovereign right to provide education and improve health and other services to our remote-based communities. Whilst those foreigners readily appreciate the value of educating their own children, they claim that by educating Basarwa children, we are violating Basarwa’s rights and destroying their culture.”(Former President Festus Mogae, addressing parliament, quoted by Dan Moabi, 23 November 2006) Survival International provided Basarwa with an opportunity for external audience.
Roy Sesana used this space to fight against the ruling class. Sesana visited a number of countries and lobbied support from celebrities and important personalities. Gradually, he gained world attention. His greatest honour was from Sweden, where he was bestowed with the Right Livelihood Award. Basarwa have persevered in the face of vicious propaganda accompanied by atrocities aimed at forcing them to quit the struggle. The government used all kinds of tactics to get them out of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). They initially tried to use financial compensation, and when this buy- out failed, the government used more ruthless strategies to coerce and force them (Saugestad 2005) to move from their ancestral lands. Gana Gwi (San) people in the Kalahari have seen their houses razed, families trucked to bleak resettlement camps and water supplies cut off in a long-running attempt by Botswana’s government to drive them off their lands (Hughes, 2003). The consequences of this forced relocation to settlement camps were serious. It caused social disintegration of families as some children were separated from parents or a husband from his wife. The consequences were also severe for those who moved to government settlement camps like New Xade. Basarwa became vulnerable to all sorts of social problems, now concentrated in closer quarters.
Basarwa experienced cultural shock (Nthomang, 2004) and this crisis is manifested in the HIV/ AIDS pandemic, which prior to relocation was not a significant problem, according to Sesana: I say what kind of development is it when people live shorter lives than before. They catch HIV/AIDS. Our children are beaten in school and won’t go there. Some become prostitutes. They are not allowed to hunt. They fight because they are bored and get drunk. They are starting to commit suicide. We never saw that before. It hurts to say this. Is this development? (Roy Sesana Acceptance Speech for the Right Livelihood Award (See Sesana, 2005). Alternatives to Capitalist Accumulation Before exploring possible solutions to the current situation for Basarwa, it is important to state the genesis of the problem. The trajectory of the Basarwa is driven by the crisis of capitalist mode of production, which places the profit of a small minority before the lives of ordinary people. Illustrative of this is the fact that the Government of Botswana allowed mining companies to use the boreholes for water, but has disallowed Basarwa from using the borehole in the CKGR. As colonial history indicates, Basarwa as indigenous people were robbed of their identity, their roots and their culture. The only choice given to them was wage labour or starvation. Alienation from their way of life made them vulnerable. They lost their strength as a collective, their power as a well-organised community, and their ability to bargain for a decent place in society. What would be an alternative perspective for indigenous people? Different concepts have been suggested. They range from provision of jobs for Basarwa by mining and tourism companies to community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) to more general approaches. Hughes (2003), for example, suggests community advocacy, where communities themselves are responsible for their own emancipation.
Albert (2003) has proposed what he calls a participatory economics model that promotes social rather than private ownership. But before one evaluates different concepts, one has to ask what Basarwa want for themselves. As previously emphasised they welcome development, but under conditions they can define and shape. Indigenous people are not objects that have to be pulled into the 21st century, they have the right to have control over the resources in their ancestral land. Therefore, any strategy for the development of Basarwa has to start with granting them the status of indigenous people. If the question of control is solved, communities will be in a position to decide which ownership model to follow and which form of development they may agree upon.
The decision over how to bring about development and the choice of technology that best fits with their indigenous knowledge will be theirs. The capitalist mode of production cannot provide for the needs of the poor nor protect them from oppression and exploitation because this will hinder its central goal or raison d’être, which is the accumulation of wealth by a tiny minority.
It follows then that the solution must address the cause and not the symptoms. As Harvey (2005) observes, such struggles must be directed at accumulation which brings dispossession. The example of Mexico’s indigenous peoples’ struggle led by the Zapatistas is used by Harvey to argue cautiously that alternatives to ‘struggles against accumulation by dispossession’ must each be unique which may not allow them to fit into the broad agenda of political discourse. Concrete demands have to be grounded in the specific local needs of the ordinary people in a given community and campaigns to implement the demands should be linked to the wider civil society.
The case of Basarwa has illustrated this. The Government of Botswana has attempted to isolate Basarwa struggle by appealing to nationalistic rhetoric. However, on their own, localised struggles have not had a large impact because the Basarwa in Botswana face the same problems as those in Namibia and South Africa.
There is, therefore, a need to network and build the capacity of a strong regional movement of Basarwa and relate it to international solidarity networks such as the global social and anti-capitalist movements.
Endnotes *Dr Marobela lectures at the University of Botswana and is a member of Basarwa Research Center. He writes here in his personal capacity. Email: email@example.com. *This is an abridged article published in the Canadian Journal, LABOUR, Capital and Society 43:1 (2010) *Roy Sesana (is a former mine worker, activist, philosopher and leader of First People of the Kgalagadi), author interviews, Gaborone, 2008 and 2009.