BY MOSIDI MOKAEYA
Chairperson of Khwedom Council – an organisation that advocates for protection of the San identity – Banyatsi Salutu is calling for ancestoral intervention to overcome the vexed diamond conflict.
Salutu in an interview said the both government and those who exploit the gem treat them as sub human beings that can be trampled upon with impunity through forced evictions from their land and deprivation of economic benefits associated with diamonds.
“We pray to ancestors to fight the tedious battle with us. We wish diamonds could just finish so that life goes back to normal for us. We are certain that your reports on the issue will reach all corners of the world and prompt the much needed dialogue and policy reforms. So far government is fighting to nip us in the bud,” said Salutu.
He said for decades the San have pleaded with government to heed their call. “The response has consistently been cold and very undermining. We decided to reach out to journalists because we are certain the news will reach far and wide,” said an optimistic Salutu.
“We do not live like ordinary members of the society. We grapple with empty promises from Land Board. Instead our rightful land gets allocated to outsiders.We have no clue about their origins. It is the mines who are at the centre of it all,” said Salutu.
Salutu said the mines are notorious for buying Basarawa farms and occupying beyond the agreed boundaries.
“The San realised late that their land is being heavily raided. Back in the day the custom was that farmers cleared the land they were allocated before asking for more. The outsiders grant themselves more of our land on the contrary,” he said.
For his part Gekemotho Satau from Okavango said the Khwee are exactly that and not Basarwa.
“We refer to ourselves as indigenous people. Our rights are human rights. Botswana is known for violating our rights. This has been done through assimilative policies. However, for over 50 years this assimilation proved government wrong. In 2019 the nation is still not sure of how to improve a bushman’s life. We should be empowered to remain indigenous, ” he insisted.
Satau said government continues to deny the San fundamental human rights. He further stated that whenever they talk about recognition of their identity, they get accused of inciting divisions among the nation. “Government has upheld that indigenous identity and rights are of no persuasive value. That’s it! Our forefathers have tolerated enough. We are the educated crop of Bakhwee that is called to reclaim all that was stolen from our ancestors,” lamented Satau. He said what irritated him the most was their fruitless effort to engage with government. “We are simply denied audience by government; hell-bent on that we incite tribalism. We are entitled to our social and cultural rights as indigenous people. Denying us our identity gruesomely violates our human rights and that is the hand we are being dealt by government. Politicians intimidate government officials and prevent them from delivering decent services to us,” he pointed out.
It is continuously reported that experts have been unable to solve the lingering dispute between Botswana government and the San. The tribe has over the years garnered a lot of support from international bodies like Survival International. “Whenever we get an opportunity to voice our grievances at international forums, government often openly reprimands us for allowing outside influence,” complained Salutu.
The modern educated San have plans to improve their lives, however they feel government is failing to create the right space for them to flourish.
“We do not need certain lifestyles imposed on us. Civilisation is within us and we will not allow for our identity to be hidden behind those of other ethnic groups. We have co existed with wildlife from time immemorial and suddenly we were uprooted from our land. This was all to feed the stomachs of politicians. We do not need soldiers and police to guard the wildlife, we did a perfect job conserving the environment for centuries,” he said.
As the unfortunate bearers of a wide array of negative stereotypes, the San complain of discrimination at the hand of other tribes. In Botswana they are called Basarwa, a Setswana name denoting those who do not rear cattle. The name Mosarwa is also commonly used to shun and humiliate.
The bone of contention on the part of the San being that they feel they were forcefully removed from their ancestral lands to give Debswana space for mining.
It is estimated that there are 80 000 to 100 000 San people in the country. Although diamonds are mined right under their noses, majority are struggling as they hardly have land rights and are largely dependent on food aid or extremely low paying jobs.
They continue to wallow in poverty and unemployment due to illiteracy. School dropouts are high especially at primary school level. The dropouts are linked to the high costs associated with schooling as well as language barriers. The San are also largely underrepresented in state organs especially local government.