Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Masisi administration will not allow PIed Basarwa lawyer into Botswana

Fresh documents suggests that the government pressed on with  legal action against Basarwa of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) despite calls by Basarwa  for an end to the troubled relationship.

Evidence to this end is contained in a savingram from the Chief  of Staff in the Office of the President Boyce Sebetela dated 17 January 2022 addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja titled “Petition (CKGR).”

Despite falling short of setting out conditions for a possible ceasefire talks, three months later, the government filed a High Court case seeking an order to bar Basarwa who are not in the list of the 2006 judgement which declared that their relocation from the reserve was illegal to be buried inside the CKGR.

The case is still before the courts.

In his savingram, Sebetela informed Keaja to “find attached correspondence from a certain Smith Moeti addressed to His Excellency the President on the above mentioned subject (Petition (CKGR).”

Sebetela further requested Keaja to “attend to Smith Moeti’s issue and appraise His Excellency the President’s Office once you have concluded the matter.”

The savingram which was also copied to Moeti added that, “Smith Moeti is advised to make all follow-ups with your office.”

Moeti who is cited as the leading signatories in the petition that was filed with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s office is also of one of the leading representatives in the fresh legal battle between government and Basarwa before the Courts.

The corpse of Pitseng Gaoberekwe who is Moeti’s uncle and at the subject of the current legal dispute is still lying in a mortuary as the government has barred his family from burying him in the reserve. 

In the petition, the signatories who identified themselves as residents of CKGR indicated that they “want to reach an agreement with the Government which will allow us to live peacefully in the home our ancestors.”

They proposed that the agreement should “respect the interests of wildlife conservation as well as our basic human rights.”

Basarwa said it has been years since the High Court urged both parties to enter the discussions necessary to bring an agreement about. They added that they have been encouraged by government ministers to hope that this might happen.

Basarwa reiterated their request that government should issue a visa to their United Kingdom based lawyer Gordon Bennett; who has twice represented them in Court so that he could advise them on the legal aspects of any agreement. Bennett is credited with successfully challenging the legality of Basarwa’s forced relocation from the Reserve.

“We need someone we know and can trust, who is familiar with our situation and our problems and who will not ask us to pay for his help” adding that “Gordon Bennett meets these requirements but we do not know any Motswana lawyer who does.” The petitioners further indicated that Bennett has indicated that if he is permitted to Botswana his costs would be met by an American foundation and not by Survival International.

“He has had no contact with this organisation for several years.  It is does not know about his proposed visit and would play no part in it. Mr Bennett would work only on a possible agreement between the Government and CKGR residents and on nothing else,” Basarwa said in their petition to President Masisi. They added that Bennett would not have an interview with the media or make any public statement about his work in Botswana. He would act solely as a legal advisor.   

“We understand Mr Bennett’s previous applications for a visa have been refused.  There is no point in his applying again if he is bound to be refused again.  We therefore respectfully ask the Government to tell us whether in principle it would now be prepared to grant him a visa,” Basarwa pleaded. They further stated: “This could be granted on condition that he acted only as our legal advisor in the way we have described.”  If he would still not be given a visa, we would be very grateful to be told the reasons so that we can understand the Government’s position.”

“We do not ask to use Gordon Bennett because we want to cause any difficulties for the Government, but because we believe that we are more likely to reach a fair and practical agreement if we have the benefit of his advice.  We earnestly ask the Government to consider our Petition favourably,” they wrote.

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