It’s now over 30 years since Survival International first supported Basarwa objections to being booted out of their homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
In spite of all that has happened since, including two court cases, which the government lost (one of them the longest in Botswana’s history), President Khama is now making it clear he remains determined to see it through. What’s going on? There has been a spate of bullying and torture of Basarwa, especially around the diamond mine at Gope (now renamed Ghaghoo, in an attempt to shake off memories of its role in the 2002 evictions); not a single special game licence for subsistence hunting in the reserve has been granted for over a decade; and the Basarwa’s handful of goats and donkeys are frequently stopped from entering the reserve along with Basarwa themselves ÔÇô some are given only one month’s ‘permit’, with threats of arrest if they ‘overstay’.
It’s worth noting that foreign tourists can spend three times longer in Botswana, with no visa or permit, than the original inhabitants of the country can spend in their homeland ÔÇô even with a permit, which by law they don’t need! All this amounts to much more than just harassment.
Two years ago, the Appeal Court described the government’s ‘degrading’ treatment of Basarwa in the CKGR as a ‘harrowing story of human suffering and despair’, but the force of that ruling has clearly had no impact on the president.
Not only has no apology ever been offered, the government is now right back to its bad old ways.
It may hope that no one will notice: Ditshwanelo remains silent, and the international campaign to support Basarwa rights has died down. Perhaps the government is simply not concerned with its reputation. Perhaps it just cares no more now for its most deprived citizens than it did ten years ago, when they were shot at when trying to go home.
Its determination to kick out the Basarwa is doubtless still rooted in ministers’ desire to profit from diamonds and other finds on their land: after all, exploration concessions to practically the entire CKGR have now been sold off (so much for it being a ‘game reserve’!).
Another moneyspinner, reserved for the elite of course, is shares and directorships in tourist companies, such as Wilderness Safaris.
The president may, of course, be trying to shore up his credentials with the controversial American NGO ‘Conservation International’ (annual income over 140 million dollars) ÔÇô With representatives of companies such as Wal-Mart, Unilever and JPMorgan Chase on its board, the organization is little more than a mask for Western corporate interests. This is known as ‘greenwashing’ ÔÇô large profitable corporations claiming to care for the environment, trying to present an ‘ethical’ face to the public to clean their appalling brand images.
Although so-called ‘conservation’ in Africa was founded in the racist ideology of ‘white hunters’ ÔÇô it has always been opposed to local Africans and has routinely stolen their lands ÔÇô times are changing and governments which want to destroy tribal peoples these days are bound to attract opprobrium. Survival International is not going to disappear: on the contrary, one of the few genuine NGOs not dependent on governments or corporations, it is still growing. A lot of people in Botswana and around the world care about the fate of Basarwa, as we can easily demonstrate.
We are now forced to consider reinstating international boycotts ÔÇô tourism perhaps, or diamonds, or both. Whether we go ahead ÔÇô and how long they are maintained for ÔÇô will depend, as always, solely on the actions of the government in Gaborone. We have long made it clear that if the authorities continue to mistreat Basarwa in such an inhuman and illegal way, boycotts must surely follow.
Is that what Batswana deserve from their ‘elected government’? Surely in this time of world austerity, Botswana, like everywhere, needs what goodwill it can muster. After all, it’s not the only country rich in diamonds, and it’s been shown before that the world’s rich and famous are happy to find ethical reasons to purchase gems from elsewhere, or not at all.
Will they really want their tokens of eternal love to be ripped from under the feet of mistreated Basarwa? For their part, tourists are spoilt for choice about safari destinations. Will they be happy to gorge on juicy steaks (kudu, anyone?), and relax by the Kalahari Plains Camp swimming pool, in the certain knowledge that the Basarwa are once again being starved off their land no more than a day’s walk away? Let’s see.
*Corry is the director of the London based NGO, Survival International