Saturday, September 26, 2020

Loud Plight of the San/Bushmen (Basarwa)

Dear Editor

I am writing this article with a very heavy heart and I hope it will reach someone who will get touched and do something about the situation. This is a different group of San, not the CKGR ones who have received a lot of backing from groups like First People of the Kalahari (FPK) or Survival International (SI).

This is about the San from the Chobe District who mostly reside in Kasane, Lesoma and Pandamatenga. These people have been subjected to discrimination and poverty of the worst kind and they are the poorest in the region.

Education: A lot of them are illiterate, having dropped out of primary school in the early years, between standard 1 and standard 5. Some have had problems with the way they are ill-treated by teachers. As it happens that they go to school at a very late stage like between 10 -12 years of age, it’s difficult for them to grasp concepts and they need patience. Since corporal punishment is used as a way of forcing the kids to learn, they end up suffering the most. They find it better to drop out and stay home or go and work in the Pandamatenga Farms where they earn meager wages. In Pandamatenga the situation is made even worse because most of them reside in crusher and school is based in Guesthouse which is 6 km away, small kids as young as seven have to travel 12 km everyday to get to and from school.

Employment: If they are not employed in the Pandamatenga farms for very low wages like about P350 or so, they do casual labouring for subsistence. The little money that they earn from these odd jobs is used for alcohol so that they can drown their sorrows. Sometimes they are employed by the Council when it implements its Drought Relief Program (DRP) and they are paid around P180 or so for a month’s work doing hard labour, working with cement and concrete because most of the work revolves around construction. This just shows you how their poverty status is.

They leave on less than P10 a day.
They can’t be dependent on agriculture because most of them don’t have ploughing lands to help them with food. Close to 95% of them depend on government handouts for food and the old age pension, which is never enough to cover for the whole month.

Health: HIV/AIDS is very high amongst them since most of them are very illiterate, especially among the 18-35 year olds. All of the HIV/AIDS awareness is done in Setswana or English which are two of the languages they don’t understand very well. You will find house holds are headed by very old people who can’t take the kids to hospitals for immunizations or things in that line. You will find the infant mortality rate is double than amongst Tswana groups because of the low illiteracy rate and poverty. They are also prone to diseases but can’t look after themselves.

Politics: The San in this area are well represented politically. In Pandamatenga both the councilor and chief are of San Origin. Even the chief of Lesoma is one of their own but for some reason they don’t voice the discontent of the people who voted them into office. The chiefs were also put up to the voting public and these are there as voted servants of the people as per the laws of the country.

Although both chiefs of this villages are of San origin, most cases brought before them are carried out in Setswana which leads to a lot of San being sent to jail because of language barriers at the customary court of law.

Destitution is a deeply stigmatized status in Botswana connoting individual failure, isolation and abandonment, officially a person ‘without any asset’ and ‘physically or mentally incapable of working’ or ‘those who own nothing but head lice’.

From the above situations one can note that this group of people doesn’t even know that Botswana is a rich country because they just find themselves suffering which they can do nothing about and until something is done, this is exactly what is going to happen to the San at places like New Xade and Kaudwane. These people need empowerment schemes that can help them to generate income so that they don’t depend on the government so much.
Information need to be disseminated in all languages so that they can also understand the messages that are being conveyed across.

Joseph Msika
Johannesburg

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