Basarwa of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) have petitioned President Mokgweetsi Masisi urging him to lift pre-entry visa restrictions on their United Kingdom based lawyer Advocate Gordon Bennett.
The restrictions which were imposed by former President Ian Khama’s administration banned Bennett from entering Botswana even when he applied for a visa. Since 2013, despite concerted efforts by Basarwa of CKGR to have Bennett represents them in their fresh legal battle with government; the Ministry of Immigration has rejected his visa application twice.
Relations between Bennett and Government were sour over the decision by the former to represent Basarwa in fresh legal battle against the government.
In a letter dated 11th August 2018, addressed to Masisi, Basarwa appealed to the President to allow Bennett to enter the country without having to apply for a visa first. They argue that they want Bennett to provide them with legal advice on their negotiations with Government as he is better placed to do that.
They further argued that should Masisi lift the visa restrictions for Bennett, this would demonstrate the importance his Government places on its relationship with Basarwa. The pointed out that lack of legal representation and advice due to the visa restrictions imposed on Bennett has not only created misunderstandings among themselves but also fueled strife. They said they value their strong ties with Bennett because he also played the role of a mediator when they had disagreements or misunderstandings as residents of CKGR.
Responding to Sunday Standard queries earlier this year, Bennett confirmed that he was not given any reasons why his application was rejected.
“I can confirm that I was given no reason, and cannot speculate as to what it might have been. I only know that the result has been to deny the residents of the CKGR access to the lawyer of their choice,” he said.
Touching on other topical issues, Basarwa called on Masisi to intervene in their alleged stand- off with Gantsi District Council over the local authority’s recommendation that the reserve be demarcated into two without prior consultations. The council has resolved that the reserve be divided into two; one portion for the residents of CKG and the other one for wildlife.
The petition states that government officials have sidelined CKGR residents in some of the decision they have taken which affect their lives in the reserve. According to the petition, officials have adopted a divide and rule strategy in an effort to infiltrate Basarwa.
They said they have lost trust in the consultative committee that was set up to advice government on the developments in CKGR among them restoration of services. They also demanded that Local Government Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi should postpone a meeting that was scheduled for 23 August to enable them to consult amongst themselves.
The petition further states that the residents no longer have anyone to represent them in their negotiations with officials because Basarwa activist Roy Sesana is currently a civil servant.
On Thursday this week, Local Government Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi held a consultative meeting with the Ghanzi District leadership led by its Chairperson Galetlhaole Sixpence on the developments in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR).
At the meeting, the minister announced that government intends to re-introduce services in the reserve following the formation of a consultative committee. She said the purpose of the committee which comprises of representatives from settlements in the reserve was to facilitate consultation between CKGR residents and Government on issues which need to be mutually addressed. The minister said the services to be re-introduced include water bowser, mobile health services, and food rations cash allowances among others. For his part, Sixpence confirmed that resolution of the full council meeting is to designate CKGR settlements as Development Zones where resident are given a certain radius to conduct livelihoods activities under guidelines that could be developed to regulate the situation.