Saturday, October 23, 2021

‘We were promised riches but got HIV/AIDS instead’ ÔÇô Bushmen

The councillor for New Xade in the Gantsi District Council, Jumanda Gakelebone, says that he recently hosted a group of concerned constituents who want to go back to the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR).

“They were saying that when they were relocated from the CKGR to New Xade, the government promise to eradicate their poverty and make them rich. However, they are complaining that instead of those riches they are now getting infected with AIDS. They want to escape the certain death that will come with this AIDS by going back to the CKGR,” Gakelebone says.

The government forcibly removed Gwi and Gana communities out of the game reserve to the settlements of New Xade and Kaudwane. The first batch of 1740 left in 1997 and the second (of 530) left in January 2002 when the government stopped providing essential services in the form of water, food as well as health and other social services. The outcome of a consequent court case was a ruling by a three-judge panel in 2006 that while the litigants could return to the CKGR, the government was not obliged to provide them with services. In 2015, after more than a decade of battling with Survival International, a London-based NGO and the First People of the Kalahari, a local Bushmen rights pressure group, the government finally caved in and restored its essential services in the CKGR.

Gakelebone says that the group of residents who came to see him said that the only reason they hadn’t returned to the game reserve was because services had been discontinued. Now that they had been restored, this group sees no reason to continue living in New Xade.

The HIV/AIDS aspect is particularly heart-rending. Gakelebone says that before the communities were removed from the CKGR, “AIDS was a just a name of something we didn’t know.” At the time of the resettlement, there was a lot of construction work going on ÔÇô New Xade has a health clinic that is bigger and more plush than any in Gaborone. Gakelebone points the finger of blame at construction workers for having introduced the disease to members of his community.

“The prevalence rate is now unbelievably high,” he says. “What adds to the problem is alcohol abuse which we were not used to in the CKGR. Yes, there was alcohol in the CKGR prior to the relocation but the one you would find would have been brought in by visitors. For that reason, there was no alcohol abuse. That is not the case in New Xade where there are two bars and countless shebeens. With Gantsi being within reach, some people travel there to buy malt in shops and brew khadi (traditional wine) for own consumption. There are times when up to 60 people in the village are brewing their own khadi at the same time.”

In the past, Survival International has released a report that shows how CKGR Bushmen now suffer from other diseases like sugar diabetes and high blood pressure that are a direct result of a sedentary lifestyle and eating processed food. Prior to the relocation, their exercise came in the form of hunting for fresh food in wild animals and plants.

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