After more than a decade of battling with Survival International, First People of the Kalahari and their international supporters, the government has finally caved in and restored its essential services in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR).
This development is the direct result of dialogue between the government and Bushmen leaders that started last year. This dialogue brought President Ian Khama face to face with FPK leader, Roy Sesana. For once during this long-running battle, FPK didn’t coordinate its effort with its traditional ally, SI, which sponsored the latter’s epic High Court battle which was decided in 2006. At the time of this case, the government had relocated Gwi and Gana communities out of the game reserve to the settlements of New Xade and Kaudwane. The first batch of 1740 left in 1997 and the second (of 530) left in January 2002 when the government stopped providing essential services in the form of water, food as well as health and social services.
The outcome of the 2006 case was a ruling by a three-judge panel that while the litigants could return to the CKGR, the government was not obliged to provide them with services. Subsequently, the returnees took the government to court, seeking permission to use a borehole that the government had sealed in 2002. The case was dismissed. Then ensued an unending stand-off between FPK and its international supporters who, besides SI, include European royals and legislators as well as Hollywood stars. Since 1997, a peer in the British House of Lords, LordPearson of Rannoch, has been a vigorous campaigner for the rights of San communities living in the CKGR, raising questions in the upper house of parliament every now and then. Like SI, he wants the Botswana government to allow the residents to live freely in the game reserve. In a report prepared for the United States’ Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Jeff Townsend, a Research Associate in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division, states that the relocation “is seen by some anthropologists as eroding San social coherence because it has removed them from their ancestral lands and grave sites, which have historically formed a central facet of San spiritual life and social identity.”
The rapprochement began last year with Sesana, who has always been media-friendly, being uncharacteristically cagey about the nature and content of negotiations with the government. As a result of these talks, a high-powered delegation led by ministers Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Slumber Tsogwane (Local Government and Rural Development) and Tshekedi Khama (Environment, Wildlife and Tourism) was helicoptered to the CKGR late last year as part of a plan to resume provision of the full range of essential services that were stopped in 2002.
Those services are being restored and key staff being lined up. In a development that will stun most people, especially the SI leadership in London, Sesana will serve a project officer based in Molapo. The latter is the largest population centre in the CKGR.