Judge Phumaphi uncovered two decades of government lies in 2006 when he found that the Basarwa had been forced to leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). In the historic High Court ruling, Phumaphi found that the government’s intention had been to “starve those remaining in the reserve so that the lure of the serviced settlements outside the reserve would loom large among their options for survival.”
The government first announced its intention to “relocate” Basarwa from the CKGR in 1986, and worked for 20 years to try to convince the world that its actions were just. Even though the High Court declared the evictions illegal, nothing has been done to make up for the appalling truth that the government tried, but failed, to conceal.
In 1989, the government insisted that it had no plans to forcibly relocate Basarwa, later asserting that “the current residents of the CKGR will be allowed to remain in the Reserve and the current Government services will be maintained.” However, after the evictions began, the government ordered the Mothomelo borehole to be sealed, the engine and pump-house to be collected, and all water tanks in the CKGR to be removed, leading to Phumaphi’s ruling that the Basarwa “did not freely consent” to the relocations.
Despite this, the government has continued to insist that everything “was done on (a) voluntary basis”, and that ‘force has never been used to remove the inhabitants of the CKGR.’
At first, the government framed the evictions as an environmental issue, claiming that Basarwa were “incompatible with the aim and purpose of the game reserve.” However, claims that guns and vehicles were being used to hunt game and that wildlife populations were decreasing as a result were unfounded.
In fact, game populations were growing within the CKGR before the evictions.
In a tactical shift, the government then identified a duty “to develop all Batswana equally” as justification for the evictions and announced its commitment to “seeing all Basarwa weaned from a nomadic life to live a decent way of life befitting the 21st century.” In 2004, President Mogae added a further gloss to this argument when he complained of “a certain extremist NGO that has relentlessly attacked this country because of our longstanding, non-negotiable commitment towards ensuring that all of our citizens… gain access to the benefits of development.”
However, the High Court debunked these ideas, with Judge Phumaphi ruling that the government’s actions had violated the Basarwa’s “constitutional right to life,” and were “tantamount to condemning the remaining residents of the CKGR to death by starvation.”
The government insisted that only outside the CKGR could the Basarwa be properly cared for by the state, enabling them to ‘be provided with sufficient, affordable, physically accessible and safe water.’ But safe water had been available within the reserve, until the government sealed the borehole. Indeed, the water provided in the New Xade resettlement camp was actually piped, at great expense, from inside the CKGR.
Finally, in 2002, a government minister confirmed that “the relocation of Basarwa communities from the CKGR is to pave way for a proposed Gope Diamond Mine”, although the admission has never been repeated. Last week Clifford Elphick, director of Gem Diamonds, again reiterated the company’s commitment to mine within the CKGR as soon as it can. Eventually the truth will be out, but it is unlikely to help Basarwa.