Saturday, October 31, 2020

Bushmen resurrect ancestral rights fight

Basarwa or Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) are not lying low as they deem their rights to ancestral connections are being trampled upon by the Botswana government with impunity. They have, to this end, put up a spirited yet a low-key campaign, through a petition to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, in their renewed attempt to end the stalemate of more than two decades surrounding their ill-fated stay in what they claim is their ancestral land. In a petition seen by Sunday Standard, Basarwa, who would rather prefer to be called Bushmen demand, almost angrily, that British barrister Gordon Bennett, who successfully challenged their legality of staying in the reserve, be allowed to return to Botswana without having to apply for a visa.

Bennett was placed on the list of people who should apply for visa to enter Botswana during former President Ian Khama’s administration.Now Basarwa hope the incumbent President would extend an olive branch to them and burry the hatchet.“We, the undersigned, are all people of the CKGR.  We want to reach an agreement with the Government which will allow us to live peacefully in the home of our ancestors. This agreement should respect the interests of wildlife conservation as well as our basic human needs,” Basarwa state in their petition.

Basarwa claim it is almost 13 years since the High Court urged both parties to enter the discussions necessary to bring an agreement about.  “We have been encouraged by Government Ministers to hope that this might now happen. By this Petition we respectfully ask the Government to issue a visa to Gordon Bennett, the British lawyer who has twice represented us in Court, so that he can advise us on the legal aspects of any agreement.  

This would allow us to use counsel of our choice just as the Government itself is able to do,” Basarwa said.They note: “We need someone we know and can trust, who is familiar with our situation and our problems, and who will not ask us to pay for his help.  Gordon Bennett meets these requirements but we do not know any Motswana lawyer who does.”Basarwa said Bennett has informed them that if he is permitted to return to Botswana his costs would be met by an American foundation and not by Survival International. 

“He has had no contact with this organisation for several years.  It is does not know about his proposed visit and would play no part in it. Mr Bennett would work only on a possible agreement between the Government and CKGR residents and on nothing else,” Basarwa said in their petition to President Masisi. They added that Bennett would not have an interview with the media or make any public statement about his work in Botswana. He would act solely as a legal advisor.    

“We understand Mr Bennett’s previous applications for a visa have been refused.  There is no point in his applying again if he is bound to be refused again.  We therefore respectfully ask the Government to tell us whether in principle it would now be prepared to grant him a visa,” Basarwa pleaded.They further stated: “This could be granted on condition that he acted only as our legal advisor in the way we have described.”  If he would still not be given a visa, we would be very grateful to be told the reasons so that we can understand the Government’s position.”

“We do not ask to use Gordon Bennett because we want to cause any difficulties for the Government, but because we believe that we are more likely to reach a fair and practical agreement if we have the benefit of his advice.  We earnestly ask the Government to consider our Petition favourably,” they wrote.

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