Monday, September 21, 2020

“The hypocrisy of government over CKGR”

I cannot comment on Mr Clifford Maribe’s attacks on Survival International, which I do not represent (letters 10 March). As lead counsel for the Applicants in the Sesana case, however, I should certainly like to respond to at least some of the remarks he has made about my clients.

Mr Marible correctly points out that the borehole at Mothomelo is some distance from the other CKGR settlements. It follows, he says, that residents will have to make “the same arrangements” to bowse water to those settlements whether they bring it from Mothomelo or from “any other point outside the Reserve”. This is incorrect for several reasons.

First, Mr Maribe has ignored a community of about 30 people which spends much of its time at Mothomelo itself. The denial of access to a borehole only a few meters from their homes has caused, and continues to cause, great distress to this community. It has made life particularly hard for the old, the infirm and the very young.

Second, most people in the Reserve have donkeys but very few have vehicles. Even fewer can afford the fuel to run them. It is possible to bowse water by donkey from Mothomelo to other settlements, but with the possible exception of Gugamma very difficult indeed to bowse water to them by donkey from outside the Reserve.

Third, even for those who have vehicles, it is far more difficult to bowse water from outside the Reserve than to bring it from Mothomelo. Water is heavy. In this kind of terrain, vehicles that have to carry it for any distance are likely to break down. Residents do not have the resources to repair them.

All this is obvious, but if evidence is required one need only look at the conduct of the authorities themselves. For twenty years or more government trucks were invariably driven empty from Ghanzi to Mothomelo, where they were filled from the borehole before being driven on to other settlements. Water was never bowsed from outside the Reserve because this was too difficult and too expensive an exercise, even for the Government.

Mr Maribe goes on to say that the Game Reserve Regulations “render the CKGR a poverty trap”. I am very familiar with these Regulations, and respectfully disagree. Regulation 18 provides for the creation of community use zones “for the use of designated communities living in” the Reserve. Regulation 45 enables the Director of Wildlife to issue hunting permits to “persons resident in the CKGR at the time of [its] establishment, or persons who can rightly lay claim to hunting rights in the CKGR”.

If my clients are trapped in poverty, it is because the Government has chosen not to create any CUZs in the CKGR, and because the Director of Wildlife has chosen not to issue them with a single permit under Regulation 45, ever.

When Mr Maribe claims that “only hunting in accordance with a special game licence is permitted,” he is misinformed. As I say, Regulation 45 specifically acknowledges that my clients have hunting rights in the CKGR which are unique to them. They are to be issued not with SGLs, but with hunting permits. This is perhaps why Regulation 45 appears to have inspired a kind of collective amnesia on the part of Government representatives. So far as I am aware, none of them has even acknowledged its existence.

The inevitable result is that residents must either accept that they have been “condemned to death by starvation” by their own Government, as Mr Justice Phumaphi put it in his judgment, or risk prosecution and prison every time they try to provide for their families. This in turn places an intolerable strain on relations between the DWNP and residents, which were already difficult. By driving all hunting underground, and by refusing to draw any distinction between those who hunt for the pot and those who hunt for profit, the DWNP has actively encouraged the trespass of poachers into the Reserve. I urge the Director to think again, and to give belated effect to the law of the land by finally implementing Regulation 45.

The law of the land does not appear to figure large in Mr Maribe’s own calculations. He says that “while the decision to relocate may be unpopular with a few, it was necessary to ensure food security and socio-economic advancement, not only for the former residents of the CKGR but for the thousands of people living in the south-western part of the country who are still dependent on the wildlife resources of the CKGR for their livelihood opportunities.”

This entirely ignores the fact that, as the Court has held, it is unlawful and unconstitutional to relocate a group of citizens “forcibly, wrongly and without their consent.” The belief of Government that the relocation is “necessary” does not permit to trample upon the rights of its own people, as Mr Maribe will know, even if that belief is well founded in fact. Many informed observers, of course, are firmly of the view that it is not.

Mr Maribe relies upon an observation in the 1985 Fact Finding Mission that wild life and veldt products had been “virtually eliminated” over an area of about 5000 sq km around Old Xade. This leads him to conclude that, “as more and more land is taken up in the Reserve to cater for human settlements, land reserved for wildlife will over time shrink to a point where there will be no CKGR.”

This is nonsense. I cannot think of any other word to describe it. Old Xade was a problem only because it was too big, and it was too big only because Government policy was to resettle everyone in the same place. That is why, even by 1985, there were three times more people in Old Xade than in the other five settlements put together. This policy was only abandoned after an outside consultant, W.K. Lindsay, warned of the disastrous consequences that it was likely to have on wildlife. This prompted the Government to search for a site for a “New” Xade outside the Reserve, to which it could displace the problems of “Old” Xade.

There is not the slightest reason to suppose that if residents are allowed to return to the CKGR they will take up “more and more” space. Evidence called at the trial showed that prior to the Relocation, when there were about 700 people in the Reserve, permanent grazing around all five settlements accounted in total for just 0.37% of the total area of the Reserve. And Mr Maribe says that former residents recognise that “relocation outside the Reserve offers access to far more superior services and better life prospects.” If he is right, only a few of those people will want to return to their homes. Those that do will occupy an even smaller part of the Reserve than they did before.

Ultimately, this is an issue about freedom of choice. Those who wish to live in New Xade or Kaudwane are, of course, free to do so, but those who prefer to live in the Reserve should surely have the same freedom. The Government claims to accept this. But in that case, why should it continue to refuse those people access to the borehole at Mothomelo? It does not need the borehole itself, and has not been asked to pay anything towards the costs of its re-commissioning. It is difficult to see what possible motive the Government can have, unless it is to make it as difficult as possible for persons forcibly removed in 2002 to exercise their legal and constitutional right to return to their homes, in accordance with the judgment of the Court. If there is another explanation, I invite Mr Maribe to tell your readers what it is.

*Gordon Bennett is a UK based Barrister acting on behalf of the CKGR Basarwa

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