The British government has raised its concern with the Botswana government over the decision to impose visa restrictions on Basarwa lawyer Gordon Bennett and over the Basarwa issue ÔÇô it emerged in the British Parliament this week. British MP Lord Pearson had asked in Parliament whether the British government has engaged the government of Botswana over its decision in 2013 to ban Mr Gordon Bennett from entering the country following his pursuit of successful cases against Botswana government on behalf of Basarwa. Responding to Pearson’s question, Lord Wallace of the Liberal Democrats said their High Commissioner to Botswana has raised the issue of Mr Bennett’s visa status with senior officials from the government of Botswana.
Lord Pearson also asked whether, in view of the terms of Botswana’s independence agreed by the United Kingdom in 1966, they will discuss with the government of Botswana its long-term plans for those Basarwa who wish to remain permanently in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
In response Baroness Warsi of the Conservatives said the British government regularly discusses with the Government of Botswana the situation of Basarwa. “We have consistently encouraged the Government of Botswana to seek an inclusive, sustainable and negotiated solution. We will continue to do so”, he said in his response.
The Botswana Parliament last July rejected a motion by Maun West MP, Tawana Moremi calling on the government to waive visa requirement to allow Mr Gordon Bennett to come to the country so he could represent Basarwa in their case. The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu said government was not in a position to waive the visa requirement for Bennett. He added that he was denied to visit Botswana in the interest of national security.
Batshu said Botswana, as a sovereign republic, was at liberty to decide who to allow and who not to allow to visit the country.
At the time, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Ikwatlhaeng Bagopi told the media that,. “that man has no reason to be in Botswana. We are keeping our country’s interests first and Bennett is not bringing anything beneficial to us as a country”. Bagopi revealed that they had not disclosed to Bennnett the full reasons why his visa was denied but could not discuss them in detail with the media. “If I go into further detail I will be informing you before the actual applicant and I cannot do that; but what I can say is that Bennett’s legal skills are not scares.
There are many lawyers accessible in Botswana so Basarwa have a choice of using any other lawyer in the country. Why should they take someone from that far?” Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said in a statement, ‘this is yet another calculated move by President Khama to thwart the Bushmen’s access to justice. It’s ironic that Botswana is still thought to be ‘transparent’ and ‘democratic’ when its government has spent years trying to destroy its original peoples. Now, after their successes in court, Bushmen are not even allowed their lawyer. This is a vindictive and repressive step.’