Jumanda Gakelebone’s understanding of the nature of the Dalai Lama visit is that President Ian Khama is embracing the Tibetan spiritual leader because he has been persecuted by the Chinese government.
“If Khama can take pity on him because he has been driven out of his land, surely he should be able to do the same with us because we have also been driven out of our land,” says Gakelebone when asked if the Dalai Lama can realistically raise an issue (the Bushmen’s removal from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve) and risk offending a man who is taking considerable risk by allowing him to visit Botswana.
With such understanding, Gakelebone penned a letter to the Dalai Lama that Survival International has now shared with all contacts on its international mailing list. Addressing the Dalai Lama as “Your Holiness”, Gakelebone begins his letter by informing the former about the adverse circumstances of his people.
“More than 10 years ago, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the government was wrong to ban us from hunting and evict us from our ancestral home in the name of conservation and development. One judge said that banning us from hunting was like condemning us to death. But our government has failed to respect the ruling ever since. We still cannot live on our lands freely. The government makes it so that children must apply for permits to visit their parents when they become adults. We worry what the government will do when those parents pass away,” reads the letter, adding that the government still forbids the Bushmen from hunting and has introduced a “shoot-on-sight policy” against poachers that literally put Bushmen hunters on the receiving end of sharpshooters in a low-flying police helicopter. “Some of them were stripped naked and beaten.”
It would seem though that Gakelebone understands the issue a little differently from the way it has been characterised by the Minister of International Affairs and Foreign Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Explaining Botswana’s controversial decision to become the first African country to host the Dalai Lama, Venson-Moitoi said that Botswana is a sovereign state that can host whomever it chooses.
The letter was a sent a little too late ÔÇô just one week before the Dalai Lama headlines a lecture on botho (humanness) at Botho University. While conceding the point about lateness, Gakelebone hastens to add that his home and place of work (New Xade) is off the grid and that on the basis of the latter, he learnt about the Dalai Lama’s visit late himself. He says that he has emailed a copy of the letter to an address that he has for the Dalai Lama.
A veteran Bushmen rights activist, Gakelebone wrote the letter in his capacity not as the Coordinator of the First People of the Kalahari lobby group but as councillor of New Xade in the Gantsi District Council. New Xade is a new village where Bushmen who were forcibly removed from the CKGR were resettled.