Saturday, October 24, 2020

Basarwa unhappy that Debswana is disturbing their dead

BY MOSIDI MOKAEYA

The San people are peeved that their loved ones’ remains are excavated for gem diamonds while they wallow in poverty.  

Corporate Affairs Manager at Debswana Corporate Centre Agatha Sejoe confirmed during an interview that graves belonging to the San have been identified in the vicinity of the mining area.

“Through the Archeological Impact Assessment undertaken for Orapa Game Park in September 2016, graves were identified in consultation with the relatives. The graves were demarcated and preserved as Cultural Heritage sites. Further, a Memorandum of Understanding on access to the grave sites was signed with the concerned parties. As such the concerned parties are able to access the Park to visit the graves,” said Sejoe.

While there is talk of much consultation and access, the San still feel they are denied access to the graves of their forefathers as they have no land rights anywhere near the said graves. Buuhe based Sefatlhego Tutuwe is currently fighting tooth and nail to prevent Land Board from giving her land rights far away from Orapa Game Park where her parents and other family members were buried. Through a letter dated 11th February 2019, Letlhakane Sub Land Board informed Tutuwe that her new home would be in Letlhakane Phase 1.

“I prefer to be granted land at Buuhe Ward as I would be able to access the graves of my dearly departed with ease. I was relocated from Orapa Game Park where the graves of my family are. I have however been pleading in vain with both Debswana and Land Board as it seems they will place us wherever they like. Mine is not an isolated case, there are many of us,” said a concerned Tutuwe.

Although Sejoe maintains Debswana has little to do with land allocation and rights, that it is entirely up to Land Board, Tutuwe said they have been getting visits from mine officials regarding the issue.

“All land related matters are handled by the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services,” claimed Sejoe. Meanwhile Tutuwe said she got a visit from Sejoe’s office this month concerning the issue.

“They came to intimidate us and tell us that we should accept whatever it is we are given and carry on with life. We feel helpless as these people are very powerful and ultimately what Debswana wants will be done,” she cried. Asked whether or not Debswana was considering the San’s plea to be given back their land, how Debswana is currently addressing the issue and when first the matter was brought to the mining company’s attention, Sejoe distanced his organisation from the issue apportioning blame on the land board.

On 18 January 2018, the Botswana Khwedom Council (BKC) wrote to Leader of the Opposition Duma Boko raising concerns about their relocation from their ancestral land, not much has changed.

“The government that is supposed to protect the San colludes with cattle barons and some elites to relocate us from an area that we have inhabited for a very long time. We are even being relocated from sacred lands such as Tsutsuga which are older than Botswana herself. In Botswana the San can be relocated just because a councilor or elite farmer does not want them there, not because it is per government policy,” reads the letter. Cabinet had also around the same time approved that a chunk of GH10, the Kacgae area, and East and West Hanahai in Ghanzi District be turned to cattle ranches, a development that has never sat well with the San.

“This is all despite the fact that we still have a lease on the same land which is a long way from expiring,” the letter further stated.

While Botswana is signatory to the 2016 Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), details around relocation of Basarwa to pave way for diamond mining show non compliance. According to the well intended EITI, the wealth from a country’s natural resources should benefit all its citizens equally. “This requires high standards of transparency and accountability,” reads the EITI manual. However Botswana remains one of the most unequal societies on earth.  Basarwa are hard hit by the inequality and their poverty screams the loudest regardless of their proximity to where diamonds are mined.

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