Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The CKGR standoff should be resolved honestly

It would be disingenuous to think that the standoff between Basarwa and government over the Central Kalahari Game Reserve ended when the High Court in Lobatse issued its judgment over the matter a few years ago.

As we have so often said before, this matter is much more complex as to be resolved legalistically.

Like many people, Basarwa of the CKGR felt that their problems ended when the court found in their favour.

Their attitudes have hardened more since the judgment because they feel that, notwithstanding their legal victory, they have nothing to show for it as government stubbornly refuses to honour the court ruling.

To them it is unbearably demeaning that they cannot go back into the CKGR, their ancestral lands, unless they apply for special permits, especially those who were not a part of the registered litigants at the time of the case.

Thus, while the High Court case has come and gone, more Basarwa feel more aggrieved today than they did before the case.
They feel slighted by their own government.

Rightly or wrongly, they continue to believe that there are many outstanding issues as per the High Court judgment that have not been fulfilled and honoured by government.

But the matter for this commentary is that there was no way such a matter was going to be settled by a purely legalistic posture as is the nature of High Court judgments.

Not for the first time we find ourselves calling on Basarwa of the CKGR on one hand and government on the other to come closer to one another and open a dialogue.

Pretending there are no problems can only increase the rift between the two parties and allow for the wounds of discontent to fester on.

There is no way we can pretend to be a harmonious population when a large section of our people feel humiliated and left out of the mainstream.
When Ian Khama became President, there was a lot of goodwill and optimism among the people of the CKGR.

Even though Khama had been a senior member of government for 10 years before he became president, the CKGR people’s hopes were premised on the fact that there existed a fresh opportunity to once and for all settle an issue that has contaminated Botswana’s national and international standing.

Since the High Court judgment, Government has been singing a mantra that it is not obliged to supply water to any one who went back into the Reserve.

“People are free to go back, but they should bring themselves water,” says Government.

This is despite the fact that there is a borehole inside the Reserve which has water in it and has for years been accessible to people wishing to stay inside the Reserve.

As one senior British broadcaster once put it, “there is something particularly distasteful” about sealing a waterhole in a place where water is as scarce as is the case at the CKGR.
There is no doubt that the CKGR dispute has been handled badly by all parties involved; Basarwa and their handlers in the form of NGOs, especially Survival International cannot be spared.

These groups were unnecessarily abrasive in their dealing with Botswana Government and did a lot to undermine the viability of Botswana as a modern state.

On the other side, Government has also demonstrated a shocking level of immaturity, insincerity and dishonesty on the matter.

Reasons for resettling people from the CKGR were varied and kept shifting capriciously depending on who inside Government you were talking to on any particular day.

Having said that, we think this is not the time to let events from yesteryear derail what we still think is a glorious opportunity to settle the CKGR matter.

We hear CKGR is fast becoming an up-market tourist destination. That is all and good. But what stops Basarwa from living side by side with fauna and flora?

History shows they are some of the world’s best conservationists.
Government of Botswana should rise to the occasion and open a sincere channel of dialogue with Basarwa of the CKGR.
Being a part of this great nation, they deserve no less than the rest of us!

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.