The Non Governmental Organisation at the centre of an international campaign to boycott Botswana diamonds has said the campaign would end in less than two days if Government could climb down and give Basarwa access to a borehole inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Botswana diamonds and the country’s tourism sector are a subject of a spirited boycott campaign, launched in protest against the Government decision to deny Basarwa inside the CKGR access to a borehole.
The Director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, has told The Telegraph that, as things stand, only the Government of Botswana can influence the position of his organization.
Survival International is a small but determined and passionate NGO run from Central London from where Corry directs and coordinates multiple campaigns across the globe, all for the protection of indigenous and marginalized communities.
Other than diamonds, SI is also telling its mainly western-based audience not to visit Botswana as tourists because, as Corry puts it, the money from the tourism sector is used to oppress the Bushmen.
He dismisses the popular lore within Government that Survival uses the campaign to raise money and that whatever concessions make Corry and his SI will always find a new excuse to damage Botswana’s reputation, including the country’s sources of income.
“If we are using this issue to raise money for ourselves, Government could put us to the test by giving the Bushmen water and see what will happen. I can assure you that the campaign could be over by the weekend. The only way Government can influence our opinion is to give water.”
He also dismisses that since the standoff started, Government has consistently made concessions while his organisations has continued to make more demands, some of them as unreasonable as to literally border on threatening Botswana’s sovereignty as an independent country.
“I’m not aware of any concessions the Government of Botswana has ever made. It took four years of High Court sessions to rule that the Government had acted illegally by evicting Basarwa from their land,” he said.
On the conditions at the new resettlement camps created by Government for Basarwa outside the Reserve so that, like the rest of Batswana, they could access services and other amenities, Corry is equally contemptuous if not more so.
“Life in New Xade is terrible. It has always been, except for the so called chief, [Lobatse] Beslag. At the New Xade, the Bushmen are bored. They cannot hunt and they pass time by always fighting each other and drinking. It [resettlement] has taken away all their dignity.”
The renewed campaign by Survival International started a few weeks ago and coincided with an announcement by Government that a lot of progress has been made in the negotiations between Government on the one hand and Basarwa on the other.
Corry says Botswana Government has lost all the moral authority to demand any respect from his organization given the degrading treatment that the Government has been meting to Basarwa, even as negotiations continued.
“Negotiations! So called negotiations! Negotiations is when you are talking to somebody with the aim of reaching a solution, but in this instance Government of Botswana is only explaining its position to the other side. Why take so many years? To make matters worse, the Bushmen are not even allowed advisors.”
He is not surprised that the First People of the Kalahari, an NGO that spent many years fighting a nationalist battle on behalf of Basarwa is collapsing under the weight of a combination of mismanagement and lack of resources.
“What do you expect? Without support it’s difficult. Their radios were taken away from them by the police. They have no resources. How are they to maintain a modern organization that can speak on their behalf?”
A local human rights group, Ditshwanelo, which has been working with Basarwa is not spared Corry’s acidic tongue.
“Ditshwanelo does not support the Bushmen. It [Ditshwanelo] represents Government. That is what we think. That is what the Bushmen have told us.”
But does the campaign against Botswana diamonds and tourism enjoy the blessing of Basarwa of the CKGR on whose behalf it is allegedly waged?
“We have not sought the permission or input of the Bushmen. This is the position of Survival International. It is our opinion and there is no way Government can dictate to us our position.”
He says what is important is that Basarwa understand what is at stake.
According to him nobody in the world understands Botswana’s Government’s attitude better than Basarwa.
“These boycotts escalate the struggle. It has become too dangerous for us to involve the Bushmen. Pressure is so great that our contact with them puts them in great danger.”
See Insight for more details