Sunday, February 28, 2021

Gov’t opens new front in fight for Basarwa rights

Although English Advocate Gordon Bennett will now be required to procure a visa in order to visit Botswana, there has not been any formal notification to him about the change in his immigration status. However, he has not allowed not being in the information loop get in the way of his work.

“I have still not received notice of any change in my status. I am told that my name appears in a visa list published in the 28 June edition of the Gazette, but I have not been able to verify this because I left Botswana on the same day and have been unable to obtain a copy of this edition of the Gazette in the UK,” he said in an email.

The visa restriction may prove to be inconvenient for Bennett as he has to represent CKGR residents at the High Court on July 29. Earlier in the week Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs Permanent Secretary, Ikwatlhaeng Bagopi, confirmed the latest development in an interview with Sunday Standard’s Khonani Ontebetse.

“Contrary to reports, Bennett has not been declared a Prohibited Immigrant. But in order for him to come to Botswana next time he should apply for a visa. If he does not obtain a visa he will not be allowed to come into the country,” he said. Bagopi also confirmed that Bennett was not the only one who is required to obtain a Visa in order to enter the country.

In that interview, Bagosi could not give the official reason why Bennett, who has been representing the Basarwa of CKGR and recently those of Ranyane at the High Court since 2004 suddenly needs a visa.

Bagopi had told Sunday Standard that government was looking at many things, among them security considerations for the country and whether it is in the best interest of Botswana when that person is in the country.

The Visa requirements would need Bennett and others on the visa list to provide their flight itineraries and the nature of their business in the country.

“I very much hope that I will be able to return to Botswana for an important hearing listed for 29 July. This case is closely associated with the first CKGR case in which I was involved, and I would like to think that my involvement in the new case would assist the Court as well as the Basarwa,” said Bennett, about the developments.

“On the assumption that I am indeed on the visa list, I have applied for a visa to the Botswana High Commission in London. I have been told by telephone that it (the High Commission) has received my application and I await the decision,” he said.

The downside of being placed on a list of foreigners requiring visas to visit Botswana is that if he cannot obtain one, he will not be able to appear at the hearing on July 29. Bennett’s instructing attorney in Gaborone, Duma Boko & Co, would have to make other arrangements.

CKGR residents Botswana are taking Government of Botswana back to the High Court for the third time and this time they want the court to determine if the 2006 court ruling in the marathon Roy Sesana case applies only to the 189 Bushmen named in the original court papers or whether it applies to everyone relocated in 2002 whether or not they were made applicants in the Sesana case.

About 700 Bushmen were forced from the CKGR to new Xade in 2002 and it has since come to light that they were moved to make way for a diamond mine which is headed by a former BDP MP and Assistant Education minister Kavis Kario and a tourism establishment in which President Ian Khama and other political elites such as the Saleshandos have shares in. Further, the general area that includes the CKGR has recently been uncovered to be part of a “wildlife corridor” and migratory route for wild animals by Conservation International, an organization whose board Khama also sits on.

The government has not heeded the court ruling as the former residents are only allowed back into their former home with short duration permits only. Bennett himself was refused entry into the CKGR during his most recent visit.

“The Basarwa applicants have asked me to represent them, and I think that in principle they ought to be allowed to use counsel of their choice. So far as I am aware they have not been given any reason they should not be allowed to use counsel of their choice,” said Bennett.

Bennett said he had read press reports that on his recent visit he failed to inform the authorities of his movements whilst in Botswana.

“This is wrong. I was first asked the purpose of my visit when I went through passport control at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. I said that I was an advocate and that I had come to see legal clients, which was true. If I had been asked for further information I would have been quite happy to give it, but I wasn’t. I do not believe that I have ever failed to provide information that has been asked of me by the Botswana authorities. I have no reason to do so. As far as I am aware I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. All I want to do is to represent my clients to the best of my professional ability, and I very much hope that I will be allowed to do this,” he said.

Contacted for comment, Alice Beyer, the Press Officer at Survival International, told the Sunday Standard: “We are unable to comment on this situation at the moment, but I will keep you informed if this changes.”

Meanwhile, FPK leader Jumanda Kelebonye said this week that they are worried that if Bennett’s visa application is turned down, their case may fail if he fails to show up at court July 29.
“Bennett has not done anything wrong. We hope that Botswana Government will not go to great length to prove their hatred for us. If our case flounders because the government’s heavy-handedness, we will use everything we have to fight it. It will be like 2002 all over again, ”

The PS in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Ikwatlhaeng Bagopi, said turnaround for visa application is 7 days. However, he said all lot will depend on when the Visa Committee will meet. The Committee is chaired by Claude Mojafi.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper