By Calistus Bosaletswe
A move by government prohibiting Kalahari Bushmen to travel more than 40 km from their residential areas in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and other Wildlife Management Areas in Kgalagadi has sparked anger among residents. The bushmen accuse the government of restricting their movements.
The unwritten by-laws usually administered by security agents in these areas are not known to most of the communities which result in them being arrested if they travel 40km from their home, a move that was implemented to curb incidents of poaching.
The Kalahari Bushmen who have fought in the courts of law for their ancestral land find it difficult to move freely when gathering wild fruits and indigenous medicine.
The Kalahari Bushmen organisation, Botswana Khwedom Council (BKC) is concerned that a move that restricts the movement of the Bushmen in their ancestral land is a gross violation of their rights.
The BKC, Chairman Galenkutlwe Leakwa indicated that they have received complaints as far as Ranyane in the Kgalagadi District and CKGR where residents are told not to travel more than 40km from their residential areas.
He indicated that they have raised their concerns with the relevant authorities, but nothing was done about it.
Leakwa further stated that the government never gives the bushman an ear when they raise issues that concern them hence the government turned a deaf ear on the issue.
“The Bushmen are forced to travel long distances in search of wild fruits and traditional medicine and restricting them denying them to practice what they have been doing since time immemorial,” said Leakwa.
Leakwa indicated that though they have cases of Bushmen who have been assaulted by state agents for allegedly being found in possession of game meat there are those who solely go into the wilderness for gathering wild fruits.
He noted that there is no distinction as some are subjected to punishment at the hands of security agents when they had actually gone for gathering.
Leakwa further argued that in the advent of climate change the bushman are forced to travel long distances in search of wild fruits and medicine which they rely on for food and medicinal purposes.
He indicated that there is a need to scrap such unwritten laws if they exist to allow the bushman to reside freely without being restricted to certain areas as if they are prisoners.
In a letter dated November 17 2018 the council wrote to the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism ministry emphasising that the Khwee people employ good conservation methods when gathering traditional medicines and wild fruits.
The council argued that the method of gathering used among the Bushmen is good for conservation since there is no environmental distraction and degradation as compared to the situation where multi-national companies are gathering for commercial purposes posing a threat to some tree and plant species.
When The Telegraph attempted to reach the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister, Kitso Mokaila to clarify the movement restriction his phone rang unanswered. Attempts were also made to send him an sms to clarify the issue but he had not responded at the time of going to press.