It is too soon to give a proper analysis of the High Court judgment about Basarwa rights in the CKGR. At the time I am writing this, the government has still to give a formal response. As we have always stressed, only the government will decide the fate of the Gana and Gwi Basarwa. As everyone knows, it is not impossible that it – or its officials – might still go against the law and continue violating their rights.
What is not in doubt is how badly the government has been advised throughout this affair. The Basarwa evictions of 1997 and 2002 were grave errors. That of 2005, which was carried out while the case was still before the court, was a colossal mistake. It was the most violent of all, and was the time when there were three cases of Basarwa being shot at by scouts or ‘special police’, the latter acting under the personal orders of the president’s advisors.
When I was able personally to say this to President Mogae, in Oxford, he seemed genuinely to believe it had never happened.
It would, of course, rank as probably the biggest mistake of all if the government were advised that the judgment should be ignored, or applied selectively and unfairly.
The CKGR Basarwa have the legal right to occupy their ancestral homeland without further harassment. That is obvious. They must be able to live there freely: that means to hunt and gather, keep their small herds of goats and handful of donkeys and horses, cultivate their tiny fields, and use the available water resources. In other words, to return generally to the situation before the evictions.
They must be able to come and go freely – the CKGR is not a prison.
Some officials are reported as saying that this could mean that all the Basarwa in the country have the right to live in the CKGR. That is nonsense, and no one has ever claimed this. There were about 1,500 Basarwa evicted in 1997 and about 700 in 2002.
Many, too many, have died and some have been born. Doubtless, a few – such as those who accompanied the President to New York recently – will not want to return. These are not population sizes, which threaten the environment, and never have been.
Perhaps a lot of mistakes have been made because senior members of the government were not told what has really gone on in the CKGR:
Indeed many of them might still not realise the gravity of what some officials have done to the Gana and Gwi and their Bakgalakadi neighbours.
In any event, the court has now thrown Botswana a vital lifeline. The judgment is certainly a victory for the Basarwa – and a long overdue one. It is also a victory for the independence of the judiciary, for the rule of law and for human rights, particularly those of indigenous peoples.
In my view, it is also an immense victory for Botswana – its peoples and its government. Hopefully, it will enable the country to begin to be seen as one where the rights of its poor and politically weak are upheld.
Survival International will now carefully analyse the government’s response to the judgment, as it develops over the next few weeks. We pray that its deliberations will be considered and centred on the rights of its people. We will consult the Basarwa and listen to what they themselves want, and then make a decision, hopefully about ending the campaign, which we will announce as soon as possible.
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