Sunday, April 18, 2021

Khwedon Council fights for the rights of the San

Botswana Khwedom Council (BKC) Executive Director, Keikabile Mogodu, has said the longstanding stalemate involving the return of the San to the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) has emanated from the Botswana Government’s refusal to negotiate with an open mind. Mogodu says due to this negative attitude, the Government has thwarted outstanding issues on the 2006 Lobatse High Court ruling authorizing the San People of Botswana (SPB) to return to their homeland in the CKGR, when engaging with the San on the negotiating table. According to Mogodu, the Government should allow issues to be resolved amicably whether it means going back to the CKGR or otherwise.

Mogodu, who is truehearted and passionate about the San, told the Sunday Standard in Gaborone: “BKC, as an SPB non-governmental organization, cannot force people to go back to CKGR. Instead, people should be allowed the freedom of choice but not threatened or cajoled. The Government should appreciate, understand and uphold the 2006 Lobatse High Court ruling for the sake of constitutional fairness, which should apply to all Batswana, including minority groups and not just the 216 it has been using as a scapegoat. For instance, when retired High Court Judge and ardent female rights activist Unity Dow fought for government to recognize children sired from a matrimonial relationship between a Motswana and non-citizen as Batswana, it applied to all women without restrictions.

“The Government’s insistence that only those granted with permits and carrying water can return to CKGR is an abrogation of the ruling. We are not talking about tourism but human beings who should reside and hold ancestral rites in the land they were born and grew up. We maintain in the same vein that the movement of people in Botswana should not be a function of Government. The Government should therefore go back to the drawing board with the San issue and get it over with. ”

He insisted that Section 14C of the Botswana Constitution states: “For the imposition of restrictions on the entry into or residence within defined areas of Botswana of persons who are not Bushmen to this extent that such restrictions are reasonably required for the protection of or wellbeing of Bushmen.” Even this part of the Constitution is in disagreement with the government’s current stance.

Referring to the San’s cultural identity, the Executive Director said SPB decided to establish a national organization that would advance their developmental vision, interests and priorities.

Through this umbrella format, it was envisage that through Affirmative Action (AA) in consultation with the Botswana Government, SPB would unify the San, address their challenges, empower San communities, affirm their dignity and pride as a people and advocate their rights. Many organizations established in this respect have in one way or the other failed tangible goals such as creating employment opportunities, establishing sustainable community development programmes, as the incumbents were not involved in decision making and top management positions of the organizations.

He said the Government in the 1990’s transformed the then Basarwa Development Programme (BDevP) to Remote Areas Development Programme (RADP) in line with its ethnically neutral approach, to provide basic social services and facilities, provide empowerment, uplift living standards and improve rural livelihoods to the majority who were Basarwa. However, due to lack of consultation of the San, RADP failed to meet set goals.

“Khwedom believes, with the current partnership and collaboration between the government and BKC, a lot can be achieved on their economic and cultural emancipation,” said Mogodu. “Khwedom is convinced there should be a paradigm shift on the government as well as Basarwa, to be able to achieve the intended results of taking the San out of the dungeon of abject poverty.”

Despite RADP’s efforts to encourage education of the San children, their primary school dropout rates are high, thus consequently defeating the whole purpose of seeing them advance to tertiary levels. Academics and researchers have attributed the failure to harsh school learning environments, where the children suffer ridicule, derogative names and discriminative treatment by non-San speaking teachers and other pupils. For instance, studies conducted under the Farm Workers Project in the Ghanzi District in 2000, the non-use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction resulted in the alienation of the children from parents at a very tender age. Furthermore, accommodating children in hostile environments and dilapidated conditions led to the lack of parental support.

“However, the scars of struggle still remain and this is what has challenged many of those who stand for the system to speak out and advocate for a society that respects the dignity of the SPB and a right of identity and language of their own in Botswana. We want to be consulted on what we need and understand that we are the San. We have Batswana with different ethnicities, who are entitled to their heritage and we require the same for the San. There is no word that defines us except the way that we define ourselves and society should accept us as such. As proved by the high school dropout rate, we need the introduction of a third language as a mother tongue mode of instruction as we have three distinct languages, Naro being one such example,” he said.

KBC was established in 1978 to be managed and led by educated SPB. Many workshops have been held since the early 1990’s, where Basarwa have been advocating for an alternative development approach. Some notable achievements have been the formation of the Southern African San Education forum (SASEF) to handle issues pertaining to San education and Working Groups of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA), a stakeholders networking forum for the San of Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper