Sunday, December 10, 2023

Plans to starve Basarwa out of CKGR in the open

President Ian Khama, former president Festus Mogae, opposition Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) presidential hopeful Sidney Pilane and a number of Cabinet ministers were complicit in an elaborate secret psychological warfare and scotched earth policy to force Basarwa out of the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) ÔÇô confidential documents passed to the Sunday Standard have revealed.

Leaked official memos reveal for the first time government’s documented systematic plan to use starvation as a weapon to force Basarwa out of the CKGR.

The documents reveal that government at some stage considered physically forcing Basarwa out of the reserve, but was worried that this would attract international controversy.

Pilane, then Special Advisor to Mogae came up with a military-style scotched earth tactic to starve the Basarwa out of the CKGR. Pilane wrote in one of the secret memos: “As previously advised, the physical removal of those people from the Reserve would attract too much controversy, quite apart from the incidents that might result from the forcible and physical removal of such great numbers of people and animals.” 

Pilane proposed making sure that CKGR residents did not cultivate crops, keep domestic stock, hunt for wild animals and collect wild plants inside the reserve.

This was the coup de grace at the end of an elaborate plan that was long in the making. A few months after Pilane was appointed special advisor to Mogae, government ceased all services to residents of the CKGR, and capped the borehole that had provided water to inhabitants of the reserve. Water tanks were removed from the six CKGR settlements and the water pump at the Mothomelo borehole was dismantled.  The special game permits which enabled Basarwa to hunt a limited quota of wild animals, and gather veldt foods and fruits were withdrawn.

Pilane was appointed special advisor to Mogae in 2001. In October 2002 Mogae issued a presidential directive which stipulated that national parks regulations be strictly enforced within the CKGR and that there should be regular patrols within and along the CKGR boundaries by the Department of Wildlife.

The plan comes together in Pilane’s memo where he points out that making sure Basarwa did not hunt, keep domestic animals, cultivate crops and gather wild plants inside the CKGR would enable government to get away with the forced relocations because “these activities are illegal on the Act and Regulations and preventing and acting against their commissions is easily justified on the Presidential Directive and the law”.

Pilane states that: “It seems to me that what is necessary and would attract less controversy is the establishment by the anti-poaching unit of permanent camps and presence at each of the four settlements and preventing unlawful activities within the Reserve by the residents of the four settlements.”

He stated that: “As only 17 people had remained within the CKGR and some have since died, the probability is that the overwhelming majority of those residents in the Reserve at the time of the visit were relocates who had been compensated and who therefore, are not entitled to live inside the Reserve.   

“Save for the remainder of the 17, the rest would find such monitoring and disturbance a disincentive to them remaining within the reserve and would in time, probably realise that they should return to the settlements outside the Reserve,” said Pilane. 

He observed further that “the permanent presence of such camps at these settlements and the strict enforcement of the law as required by the Presidential Directive should thwart any more returns. Determined refusal of entry at all entry points should also stem the tide of returns. Nobody should be allowed to force their way into the Game Reserve. 

“All these activities within the reserve, including poaching which is probably the greatest 

attraction to the compensated relocates, are contrary to the Wildlife Conservation Directive of October 2002 on the CKGR had decreed should be strictly enforced.” 

Another savingram by Pilane which is contained in the file marked “Confidential” addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism and Ministry of Local Government reveals how government used an outbreak of disease among Basarwa domestic stock to push the relocation agenda.

Pilane states that apart from briefing the then Minister of Agriculture Jonny Swartz and the then Wildlife and Tourism Minister, he had also briefed Khama (who was the Vice President) and acting President about the disease outbreak among Basarwa’s domesticated animals. He states in the savingram that: “His honour the Vice President has expressed the view that that the animals should either be allowed to die, be killed or be quarantined.”  

Observers feel that Khama may have been conflicted when he proffered his opinion at the time, because Wilderness Safaris, a multinational company in which he has a stake, owns a lodge in the CKGR.  Basarwa of CKGR occupied land where a wildlife park has been proposed. It lies on a migration route between the two premier safari reserves:  the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. 

According to Survival International, Khama sits on the board of Conservation International, and was pushing for the wildlife corridor.  

In a move believed to be part of the plan to execute the military-style forced relocation, a retired Botswana Defence Force (BDF) General, Major General Moeng Pheto was appointed to oversee the relocation programme. 

In a 2005 US Embassy communication released in 2011, United States Ambassador to Botswana Joseph Huggins condemned the forced evictions, saying: “While it is probably the case that two-three years on since the move, the greatest trauma is past, it is also clear that people have been dumped in economically absolutely unviable situations without forethought, and without follow-up support. The lack of imagination displayed on the part of the GOB [Government of Botswana] is breathtaking. The GOB views New Xade as similar to many sites of rural poverty, deserving no special treatment. But the special tragedy of New Xade’s dependent population is that it could have been avoided.”

Pilane’s memos were not an isolated incident, but part of a government blue print. Sunday Standard investigations have turned up a 2013 confidential report revealing how government planned to starve Basarwa out of Ranyane Settlement in the Ghanzi District.

The report, entitled “Ranyane Relocation Phase II”, presented by the Ghanzi District detailed the government’s military scorched earth strategy to force the remaining Basarwa out of Ranyane Settlement: Boreholes will be sealed. Food baskets, old age pensions and mobile health services will be terminated.

The report, which was complete with timelines, revealed that the government would on July 28, 2013 meet with the remaining Ranyane residents to inform them of termination of services (food basket, old age pension allowance, pay point and destitute and monthly mobile health stop). 



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