The United Kingdom based human rights organisation, Survival International, which has had a sustained troubled relationship with Botswana last week threatened to renew its campaign against Botswana.The rights group aims, as it has done before, to taint Botswana’s tourism and diamond sectors due to what it described as renewed persecution of Basarwa.The threats by Survival International come at a time when Basarwa men are reported to have been arrested by law enforcement officers after they were allegedly found in possession of game meat.But the government denies claims by Survival International.
Responding to Sunday Standard queries, the Ministry of Environment National Resources Conservation and Tourism spokesperson Lesego Kgomanyane said: “There is no truth to the allegation that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is harassing CKGR residents.”She said several citizens, including some Basarwa residents were recently arrested for hunting in the CKGR and found with game meat.“There is no hunting allowed in all National Parks and Game Reserves in Botswana, Central Kalahari Game Reserve inclusive,” said Kgomanyane.On growing of crops in the reserve, she said there are no legally allowed fields (Masimo) in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.“Communities in the CKGR sustain themselves through subsistence agriculture. Through traditional methods, (shifting cultivation),veldt products collection i.e. Tylosema esculentum (Morama bean), Grewia species (Moretlwa and Motsotsojane), Kalaharituber pfeilii (Mahupu). They also qualify for social benefit assistance packages,” said Kgomanyane.
It has also emerged that some communities who grow crops in the reserve have allegedly been threatened by law enforcement agencies on the grounds that cultivation of crops in the reserve is not allowed. Fiona Watson, the Research and Advocacy Director at the rights group, said: “Survival is alarmed at the recent spate of arrests of Bushmen (Basarwa) for hunting game in the CKGR. They are merely exercising their right to hunt, as upheld by the High Court in its landmark ruling in 2006. We hope the arrests do not signal a government crack down and are monitoring the situation closely. She told Sundays Standard that “If harassment, detention and arrests of Bushmen hunters continue, Survival will certainly publicise these abuses as widely as we can.” For his part, Survival International Communications Director, Jonathan Mazower, last week told The Sunday Standard that “we’re getting worrying reports of renewed persecution and harassment of Bushmen people in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve).”
“Four people have been arrested for hunting, and others who are simply growing crops in their communities have been told by Dept of Wildlife officials that they can’t. How are people supposed to eat if they can’t hunt and can’t grow food? We have also had preliminary reports of further arrests in Xere,” he said. Mazower added: “We hope it is not a sign that the government is going back to the bad old days, which brought Botswana so much awful publicity.” One of Basarwa human rights activists and a resident of CKGR, Smith Moeti, confirmed the latest development.He said the government is using poaching as a pretext for its latest round of persecution of Basarwa tribesmen. He said the arrested men include Basarwa leader Roy Sesana’s son, Lefifi. Other suspects are Kelebetse Tsharae, Monyaku Modibedi, Ditshinyegelo Monyaku.
They have already appeared before the Gantsi Magistrate Court and have been granted bail. According to Smith, the suspects allegedly arrested for hunting in the CKGR. He said the charges are signs of government harassment and persecution. Moeti said many Basarwa inside and around the reserve depend on hunting and gathering for a living. He said initially they had requested that government should issue them with special hunting licenses only for the government to advise them that such licenses could only be used outside the reserve.
“As we speak there is no arrangement or guidelines as to how we should hunt whether inside or outside the reserve and which animals to hunt and not,” he said.
Moeti insisted that despite the continued arrests that would not deter Basarwa from hunting. “Despite a court ruling that we should return and live in our ancestral land, we are not yet free as we continue to be persecuted. We had long tried to iron out some issues with government but the negotiations bore no fruit because the government has been monopolizing the talks,” he said.On cultivation of crops in the reserve, Moeti confirmed that communities grow crops such as beans, watermelons, maize and pumpkins.
“Yes, it is true that wildlife authorities have informed residents of CKGR to stop or desist from growing crops in the reserve because it is an animal park,” he said.