Two First People of the Kalahari (FPK) leaders, Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone, say that they know nothing about a Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) man who was allegedly castrated by law enforcement officers.
As the first diamonds from Gem Diamonds went on sale last week, Survival International, a London-based pressure group, reminded the international community that these diamonds were mined from land whose true owners are being denied its resources and being persecuted by the Botswana government. The email from SI provides a link to one of its reports that is titled “The Persecution of Bushmen 1992-2014.” What is perhaps the most astounding allegation reads: “Xawaxlao Kgoteng was allegedly caught with a steenbok (small antelope) and castrated.” This castration is supposed to have happened in either 1992 or 1993. An unnamed “Bushman” source in the report is quoted as saying: “You are castrated; you are throttled so that you excrete all which you have eaten in your stomach.”
Botswana’s law enforcement officers have demonstrated an expansive capacity for prehistoric brutality but even by such standards, castration seems to be beyond the pale. For as long as the CKGR issue has existed, there has always been a direct pipeline between SI and FPK which is why it is reasonable to assume that the former got this information from the latter. However, Sesana who is the FPK leader, says that he knows nothing about the allegation.
“I know about beatings by game wardens at Molapo and other places, not about that case,” he says, referring to one of the settlements in the CKGR.
Likewise, Gakelebone, who now represents New Xade in the Gantsi District Council and is FPK coordinator, says that he has never heard of the allegation. While he would take up activism in later years, Gakelebone was still a student at the time the alleged castration happened.
Despite such denial, SI stands by its story. Its representative, Rachel Stenham, says that they actually met the victim.
“Survival received the information about the castration of Kgoteng from people at Gope in 2001, some 10 years or more after the event. We saw him and asked to interview him but were told after he was assaulted and tortured he was so affected by the event that he did not want to give interviews.┬áIt’s worth noting that torture by its very nature is conducted in secret so there are few if any witnesses. However, all the Bushman accounts we have received are remarkably consistent,” she says in an email statement.┬á
While the FPK leaders may deny knowledge of this castration, the allegation has actually been known to CKGR residents themselves. Kuela Kiema, the first CKGR resident to obtain a university degree, says that he first heard of this allegation (which was being hustled by FPK members) in the early 1990s. He conducted an investigation by asking people from and at every settlement in the game reserve that he encountered about the case but drew a blank each time. One possible explanation for the thick haze that hangs around this issue at this point in time is that of late, the FPK leaders and government officials have been smoking a peace pipe. Sesana is supposed to have met President Ian Khama a fortnight ago.
What is even more confusing about this case is that FPK’s founder leader, John Hardbattle, was an enlightened worldly man who had served in the British army before returning to Botswana to live among his mother’s people.
According to Tears for My Land, a book by Kiema, Hardbattle was born of a Naro woman and a British father from Yorkshire, England. After school in Zimbabwe and England, he joined the British army, serving with NATO forces in Germany. Hardbattle was sophisticated enough in his understanding of activism to follow former president Sir Ketumile Masire to and confront him in the United States in June 1996 over the government’s treatment of the Basarwa. For some reason, this assertive man didn’t want to fight as vigorously to secure justice for the allegedly castrated man.