Times are getting tougher for Basarwa, as they continue to cry foul that the Botswana government is subjecting them to inhumane treatment and denying them the basic necessities of life, apparently as punishment for their refusal to be evicted from their ancestral land, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
For many Basarwa, social services and basic life amenities like water are no longer provided for people residing inside the CKGR. They allege that government is using the carrot of stick approach to force them to move from the CKGR, denying those who chose to stay food and water, while providing those who have relocated to New Xade with plenty.
Bihela Sekere, a resident of CKGR, said that Basarwa are treated as if they are not citizens of Botswana yet they are the first inhabitants of Botswana. Sekere is one of the few Basarwa who have made it to the University of Botswana.
Basarwa have therefore chosen to fade into oblivion and live in isolation from the rest of the country. Many feel that they should be left to live in peace in their ancestral land.
“After all, that is how we existed for a long time. Government only started taking notice of us when they wanted to take over our ancestral land. So they must just leave us in peace and forget about us just like they did on the past” said Sekere.
Interestingly Basarwa have always managed to exist in the most difficult conditions. Their ability to exist with very limited water, under gruelling temperatures and eking a living from the environment continues to baffle those who claim to move with the times.
They have proved to be true survivors who stick to their culture regardless of what the world thinks or does to them. Basarwa also have a rich history that is not well known even by residents of the same country.
Basarwa is a Setswana name given to an ethnic race commonly known as the San in other parts of southern Africa, or as Bushmen to foreigners.
The San, one of the oldest ethnic tribes in Southern Africa are spread across Botswana, Namibia, parts of South Africa and even as far as Angola.
Basarwa of Botswana have faced discrimination from their own country folk, as they have for years been treated like second class citizens because they apparently lagged behind in embracing modernity and all it has to offer. Basarwa have also been classified as a minority, even though their known recorded population reaches over 55 000 in Botswana only.
Basarwa have for years survived with the help of their cultural practises such as hunting and gathering, which the Government of Botswana has now deemed illegal if carried out without a license.
“We survive through hunting. The few hunting licenses that government gives out are given to old men and women who no longer have the strength to hunt. Worse still the licenses are restricted to areas where there are no animals, “said Sekere.
Most of Basarwa living in remote areas survive by a daily diet of fruit, nuts and roots. In Botswana they have a common fruit called Kgengwe, which helps them with drinking water because they are no longer allowed to drink from government boreholes. Basarwa are also famous for their consumption of Ostrich eggs. Their houses are different from the traditional Setswana mud huts, as they are made from wood and dried grass. They are called Mogwaafatshe in Setswana.
Basarwa are generally uneducated, and they usually have a difficult time finding decent jobs in villages and towns. A job that is commonly associated with them is that of herding local farmers’ cattle. It is this community of Basarwa that is said to be gripped by alcoholism, depression and illnesses such as TB and HIV/AIDS.
Some Basarwa have maintained that the rigors of illnesses and alcoholism are the very reasons why they decided to stay in the CKGR, as they feel that the outside world contaminates their existence and kills their children.
“We refuse to surrender to this imposed civilisation. We have seen what it has done to some of our children” they said.
They maintain that there is nothing wrong with their ways as they have been living like that for thousands of years.
In 1997, 2002 and 2005, the Basarwa of CKGR were forced off their land and placed in settlement camps at which they started to depend on government handouts for survival. The Government said it was including the group in its Remote Areas Development Programme, which because of the size of the population had narrowed down to relocating Basarwa to accessible locations.
The Basarwa were not happy, even though they were provided with schools, health care and access to clean water. They could not adapt to the ways of the modern societies. They wanted to go back to their ancestral land.
In 2006, the tribe won the rights to return to their ancestral land, but government has since made it difficult for them to live as comfortably as before. They are not allowed access to the water boreholes, which are their main source of water supply. The government has refused to issue hunting licenses for them to fend for their families.
To date, the Basarwa, whether living in settlements camps or in their ancestral lands, remain one of the poorest tribes in southern Africa.