As Botswana opposition parties join the chorus of dissent against the relocation of Basarwa from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, President Festus Mogae finds himself marching to the beat of an unpopular drummer ÔÇô Writes SPENCER MOGAPI
The government policy to relocate Basarwa from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is on a meltdown.
The anti ÔÇô government brigade is swelling and the official policy is on the back foot.
Hardly a moth after President Festus Mogae approached them for assistance, opposition parties have joined the ranks of his critics rather than help advance his cause, and a sad cry given that together with HIV/AIDS Mogae had come to make the relocations Policy the high brands of his administration.
Not only are opposition parties who he has personally worked hard to win to his side turning their backs on him, they are openly and loudly endorsing much of the argument line long adopted by his archrival, Survival International.
And it will be interesting to see what government’s next move will be.
The week started with the Policy’s key man Clifford Maribe in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs making a public admission that the government nemesis Survival International is winning the propaganda war.
The stage was set.
Maribe’s admission that his side was losing out was immediately followed by the Botswana Congress Party’s musings who said government actions at the CKGR contravene all the known cannons of international law and democracy. The BCP is joining the likes of the Botswana National Front who have long maintained that they do not accept government stance.
Almost like he is reading from the same script with Gordon Bennet who is representing Basarwa in a High Court case over the issue, the BCP Vice President Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang says there is enough evidence that force was used to remove Basarwa from the CKGR.
To build his case Gobotswang starts by punching holes on the reasons given by government for relocating Basarwa.
He says Basarwa could not have been moved from inside the Reserve because government wanted them to access developments.
The argument doesn’t stand because there are a lot of developments (now idle and deserted) left inside the Reserve.
At the old settlements the BCP team found deserted health post, cooperative shop and a primary school.
He also takes issue with the like of Survival International for making vague attempts to link the relocations to diamonds.
Diamonds, says Gobotswang cannot be the reason because the nearest diamond deposits at Gope are 250 kilometers from where people.
The only reason that remains, he says is that Government is trying to create space for wildlife by moving people, which he says is bizarre as people can live side by side with the animals.
Like Bennett, Gobotswang says government ay have had good intentions to assist Basarwa, but the whole exercise has turn out rather dirty.
The BCP feels the outcome of the court case will not matter as the issue is not legal but political and developmental going as far as to the core of human rights.
Not only are the differences of opinion between government and opposition parties over the relocations degenerating into a stone throwing sparring match, the opposition is calling for a resort to the pre relocation status quo before any negotiations can begin.
But the government is taking that kindly.
Immediately after BCP outlined their position Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Moeng Pheto who incidentally oversaw the relocations before he joined politics went into national television to question the patriotism of the BCP.
Pheto said it was unfortunate that BCP had chosen to join the battle on the side of the foreign Survival International.
“Its nonsense for Moeng Pheto to behave like George Bush of America that ‘you are either with us or against us’” says Gobotswang.
The BCP says life in the new settlement camps created by government especially at New Xade, is unhealthy and unsustainable.
He says life is characterised by drunkenness and idleness.
The fact that Basarwa are now able to easily link with such developed townships as Ghanzi which has lifestyles they are not used to makes them even more vulnerable to such diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
All the money and life-stock government gave out to the people as compensation for relocations have been squandered because it is not their way of life, says the BCP.
The money, says the BCP man was used o purchase vehicles that are all now parked under the trees because the owners cannot get money for petrol.
“The number of cars per person in the new settlements is simply staggering,” said Gobotswang.
“It would seem like all the money was used to buy vehicles.”
After a spending a week in and around the CKGR he said he did not meet a single person who did not want to go back into the Reserve.
In a recent article the BNF Director of Public Education Elmon Tafa said government has failed to respect Basarwa’s cultural identity.
The BNF man said the government attitude towards Basarwa was characterised by condescension and top-down bureaucratic.
He said through its relocations, government failed to make its development policy people centered. The government had also violated the rights and aspirations of Basarwa, he said.
We want to emphasise that however downtrodden people may be they have ideas about what they want which must be respected,” said Dr. Tafa.
He said it was not for government to say the terrain was too rough to be inhabited by Basarwa, given that Basarwa had lived there for centuries, which he said had made them excellent ecologists, conservationists and custodians of their natural environment.
“Forcible relocation to some distant place over 70 kilometres away has the opposite effect of rendering them ‘poachers’ because they will always be tempted to go back and hunt for wildlife and harvest the natural resources in places where they have lived for many years only to be brutalized by the game scouts,” wrote Tafa.
Like the BCP, the BNF maintains that whatever negotiations government had with the Basarwa and their representatives prior to relocations were frantic, piecemeal, heath hearted, 11th hour colonial style.
“Any attempt to whip up a false sense of patriotism by portraying all those who differ with the government on how to best address this question as enemies of the state is equally counterproductive. The BNF is convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that a genuine implementation of the measures outlined above would go a long way towards providing an amicable and lasting solution to this problem and salvage the battered image of this country in the eyes of the international community.”
Smarting from latest attacks and with its back against the wall the, government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement that under Botswana laws, Basarwa as a group no longer have rights to any land.
Recognising that whatever compensation government could have paid Basarwa is no longer there to give sustainable meaning to Basarwa’s life, the Ministry blames the “unscrupulous” individuals who could have taken advantage of the weaknesses of Basarwa.