Final submissions by lawyers in the ongoing case between the Basarwa and government, continued with the lead lawyer for government, Sidney Pilane, telling the court that, contrary to what the Basarwa lawyer has said, there is nothing “unlawful or unconstitutional” in the relocations.
Mr. Pilane said the relocations were not perfect. “But imperfections do not amount to forceful removals,” he said.
The Basarwa, who were relocated from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, are challenging government decision at the High Court.
Mr. Pilane also contested the true identities of some of the listed complainants.
He said the court has not been furnished with enough evidence that some of the listed applicants had “direct and substantial interests” in the case.
“That proof is very important, and it has not been forthcoming,” said Pilane.
He said many of the complainants have never at any time appeared before the court during the trial.
Their failure to present themselves, he said, has led to the court being furnished with a lot of circumstantial evidence.
“The court has to be very cautious when dealing with this circumstantial evidence,” said Mr. Pilane.
Earlier in the week, the lawyer, acting for the Basarwa, Mr. Gordon Bennett, told the court that government decision to relocate the Basarwa against their will goes against the letter and spirit of the Botswana constitution.
Starting his submissions today, Mr. Pilane said, for close to fifteen years, government shared with the Basarwa “the advantages of relocating from the Reserve.”
“For people to leave the Reserve, they must have wanted to leave. That has always been the government policy. The role of government was to persuade them,” he said.
He went at length trying to convince the court that there is no proof that government forcefully removed the Basarwa from their ancestral land.
“It is true that their huts were dismantled. But that does not in anyway indicate absence of consent on the part of the Basarwa,” said Mr. Pilane.
“There is no evidence before the court that any force was used,” he continued.
Mr. Pilane, however, conceded that some “mistakes” could have been made by government officials during the process to relocate the Basarwa.
“The relocation was not perfect. Certainly, errors were made. But does imperfection mean forced removals? No,” said Mr. Pilane.
“In no way could the mistakes made be interpreted as forced removals.”
He stressed that, from beginning to the end, government always made it clear that while it wanted the Basarwa out of the Reserve, such relocations were all going to be “achieved through persuasion.”
Pilane also defended government decision to stop the issuing of Special Game Licenses to the Basarwa, saying the practice was “stopped for everyone else, and not just for the Bushmen.”
“Also, the Basarwa, like anyone else, can go back into the Reserve with permits if they so wish. And that is neither unlawful nor unconstitutional,” said Mr. Pilane.