Basarwa spokesperson, Jumanda Gakelobone confirmed on Friday reports that President Ian Khama was met with protests during a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) rally in New Xade last Saturday.
The protesters were demonstrating against government attempts to starve them off their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Basarwa are reported to have demanded that their right to hunt to feed their families be recognized. They brandished slogans reading “Hunters Not Poachers” and “Basarwa are the best conservationists.”
“We had intended to hold demonstrations in large numbers but some of us chickened out after they were intimidated by security agents who threatened to shoot demonstrators”, said Gakelabone. BDP national campaign manager, Alec Siametso however downplayed the incident, insisting that it was members of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) attended the rally. “It was members of the UDC who graced our rally.
They were gathered in two vans at a distance and they did not disturb the proceedings,” said Siametso. Survival International said in a statement that during his visit to “New Xade” eviction camp, Khama failed to address any issues currently affecting the Basarwa, such as the government’s refusal to allow the Basarwa to hunt inside the reserve; the requirement for Basarwa to apply for restrictive permits to enter the reserve; and the recent opening of a diamond mine on Basarwa’s land.
The organisation says the Presidency of Ian Khama ÔÇô who sits on the board of U.S. environmental organization Conservation International ÔÇô has been marred by controversy over his attempts to force the Basarwa out of the reserve in the name of conservation, while allowing fracking exploration and a diamond mine to go ahead on their land. Despite an historic High Court ruling in 2006 which upheld the Basarwa’s right to live, and hunt, inside the reserve, the government issued a blanket ban on hunting earlier this year. Survival International argues that Basarwa are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.
“But they are accused of “poaching” because they hunt their food and face harassment, torture and arrest, while fee-paying big-game hunters are encouraged,” said Survival International. Basarwa eviction camps like New Xade have been called “places of death” by the Basarwa. “Forced to live a sedentary lifestyle, the previously semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers face high levels of alcoholism and AIDS, as reported by the BBC in January 2014.