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Basarwa spokesperson and councillor for New Xade Jumanda Gakelebone has corroborated reports by Survival International that his tribesmen were recently stripped naked, assaulted and shot at from a police helicopter in Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
The Botswana Police Service has since brushed aside the claims as “baseless and without foundation”. President Ian Khama recently visited one of the six police officers who is still recuperating at Bokamoso Private Hospital after surviving a helicopter crash recently at the CKGR; the same chopper Survival International claims the tribesmen were shot from
In a statement released this week, the United Kingdom-based human rights organisation stated that a group of Basarwa who were hunting antelope to feed their families had been shot at from a police helicopter.
The same helicopter, Survival International said, later crashed injuring six officers while it was enforcing Botswana’s hunting ban. Botswana imposed an almost complete hunting ban in 2014.
According to Gakelebone, at least three Basarwa men are currently in police custody at Gantsi Police Station with serious injuries which has been criticised by Basarwa activists and safari industry players. Botswana’s hunting industry generates about P336 million annually and more than 500 personnel is employed at different levels in the industry.
“I went to see them at Gantsi Police Station recently where I met the Gantsi Police Assistant Commander, whose name I cannot remember. What I gathered is that they were assaulted for allegedly being found in possession of game meat,” he said.
Gakelebone added that the “men had severe injuries which indicated that they were assaulted. They told me that they were lucky to be alive because bullets from a police helicopter narrowly missed them”.
Botswana Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgophe was quoted by state-run Daily News as saying that he was happy that the poachers who were being pursued at the time of the accident had been apprehended and appeared before the Gantsi Magistrate Court. He noted that the police would “relentlessly continue to safeguard the flora and fauna of the country”.
Asked if the helicopter crash injuring six officers was linked to the alleged shooting and arrest of Basarwa men, Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Dipheko Motube said the incident was a mere coincidence.
“What I can tell you is that anti-poaching is a routine operation. The arrest of the suspects happened when the helicopter was also in the area; it is just a coincidence,” he said. Motube said the police were always in the vicinity to combat poaching.
“Three suspects were arrested on 30 September, five on 31st August and five on 01st August; it is not true that they were assaulted or shot at from the helicopter,” he said.
According to Motube, the suspects have already appeared before court charged with offences ranging from entering the CKGR illegally and illegal possession of game meat.
“Some of them had in their possession giraffe meat, gemsbok meat as well as eland meat,” said Motube.
Survival International puts the number at nine Basarwa tribesmen who were arrested and subsequently stripped naked and beaten while in custody.
It says that Basarwa’s right to live and hunt for food on their ancestral land in the CKGR has been recognised by the Botswana High Court.
“Despite this, the government continues to label them as “poachers” and is now using advanced military technology to persecute them and their way of life. This militarisation of conservation efforts reflects a global trend which has concerned many human rights campaigners,” said Survival International.
This, Survival International said, has led to a situation in which Basarwa are accused of “poaching” because they hunt to feed their families and face arrest and beatings, torture and death, while big game trophy hunters are encouraged.
Botswana has also used planes; equipped with advanced heat sensors an communicating with armed anti-poaching units on the ground under the pretext that this is all intended to crack down on poachers, the human rights group said, adding that there are no elephants or rhinos roaming the reserve, which was originally set up to allow the Basarwa to continue to hunt.
Botswana’s 2014 “nationwide hunting ban” has clamped down on Basarwa’s subsistence way of hunting while wealthy tourists are still allowed to shoot big game, said Survival International.