As president, General Ian Khama’s idea of a fair fight was one in which his opponent was blindfolded and both his hands super-glued and securely tied behind his back. As Khama pummelled the opponent with a flurry of tasty blows, his armed and hawk-eyed bodyguards would be standing at the ready ringside, watching the opponents’ legs for any sudden movements.
That strategy predicted what would happen when he inherited the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve hot potato. For decades the CKGR was home to two Basarwa communities who were all forcibly removed in 2002. First People of the Kalahari, a Basarwa pressure group enlisted the support of Survival International (SI), a British pressure group which successfully lobbied for support right within Buckingham Palace and A-list Hollywood. This campaign was building up in the final days of Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency and was at its fiercest when the communities were forcibly removed under President Festus Mogae ÔÇô whose Vice President was Khama.
When Khama took over, the controversy was less intense but still very much alive. His response was to essentially declare the Basarwa’s lawyer, Gordon Bennett a prohibited immigrant. Officially, he was put on a visa-restriction list with the intention of rejecting any application he submitted. This happened at a time that the Basarwa had a case pending before the High Court. SI fought tooth and nail on behalf of the Basarwa, coordinating its campaign with the FPK. Four SI officials, being Stephen Corry, Miriam Ross, Fiona Watson and Jonathan Mazower were also PI’d via the visa-restriction ploy.
Late last year, a new pressure group made of three tribes (Basarwa, Wayeyi and Hambukushu) that calls itself SAYEMBU appealed to SI to help reclaim “ancestral land” that belongs to the tribes it represents. A campaign of this nature requires one to be on the ground and indeed before they were PI’d, SI officials would visit Botswana periodically to touch base with FPK leaders in the CKGR. SI tells Sunday Standard that SAYEMBU recently contacted it about a situation that it says “sounds serious.” The London-based group says that on account of being “banned from Botswana, it is impossible for us to consult the communities and others on the ground to verify the facts and to get first-hand, accurate information about this issue.”
Interestingly, SI may or may not have a friend in cabinet. As High Court judge, Unity Dow was one-third of a panel that presided over the case in which former CKGR residents wanted their full residency rights restored. In her judgement, Dow criticised the government for taking a hard stance against SI, noting that the Basarwa had a right to seek help from anyone, anywhere in the world who could help their cause. At this time, there was also very strong public sentiment that SI was meddling in the affairs of an African nation that was no longer a British colony. Dow has since left the bench for politics and is now the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation. In that position, she will be directly involved in any decision to lift the visa restrictions on SI. However, there is no guarantee that as minister, she will have the same attitude that she had as High Court judge.