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Indigenous Peoples

Botswana, Kalahari Bushmen evicted to make space for diamond mining

The Kalahari Bushmen, indigenous to Botswana, have been systematically marginalised from their ancestral lands since diamond deposits were discovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The Kalahari Bushmen have roamed the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa for thousands of years. Following the discovery of diamonds a few years ago and the opening of the Ghaghoo mine, one of the world’s largest diamond mines, located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana, inhabitants have struggled to access their land and have seen their huts dismantled and water tanks emptied.

Bushman hunt
A Bushman hunts in the Kalahari desert © CKGR

Bushmen resistance

Rumours of the eviction of the Bushmen, also known as the San, began circulating in the late 1980s. The local pressure group First people of Kalahari (FPK) rallied residents to resist expulsion from the CKGR and demand the right to their ancestral lands. The Bushmen were persuaded to leave and received promises of compensation and some resettled voluntarily; at the same time beatings and torture by the military and the police became frequent.

Jumanda Gakelebon
Jumanda Gakelebone, a Bushman from Botswana, sent a letter from the Bushman organisation First People of the Kalahari to Prince Charles, telling him that the Bushmen aren’t poachers but hunt to survive © Survival International

“Army helicopters are always monitoring our movements when we go out to hunt antelopes to feed our families. We have had many incidences where some of our brothers have been shot and others have disappeared from our communities for hunting in nature reserves,” says FPK group member Jumanda Gakelebone.

According to the organisation, modern lifestyles have led to many problems for resettled Bushmen, who weren’t prepared for such an unexpected change in culture: these include alcoholism, communal tensions and a rise in tuberculosis and AIDS.

Gordon Bennet
Lawyer Gordon Bennett with Bushmen clients after a historic legal victory. But Botswana’s government is now preventing him from entering the country © Survival International

Bushmen illegally evicted

In 2010 the Bushmen took the government to court in a bid to access water inside the CKGR. The judge dismissed their case but in January 2011 Botswana’s Court of Appeal overturned the decision and condemned the government’s behaviour as “degrading treatment”. In 2013, they returned to court to demand free access to the reserve, abolishing the government’s one-month permit policy. But the court threw out the case to access their land and those who resisted the court verdict and returned to their homes where detained by troops.

But on 13th of December 2016, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the Bushmen had been illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the Game Reserve and had the right to return home. The Court further recognised that banning the Bushmen from hunting was unlawful. Yet according to a UK-based NGO campaigning for the defence of indigenous groups worldwide, Survival International, at the moment the government isn’t allowing them to freely enter and exit the reserve.

President Ian Khama sees the Kalahari Bushmen as a national embarrassment, wishing to see them forcibly integrated into mainstream society in the name of “progress”. © Survival International
President Ian Khama © Survival International

State persecution of Kalahari Bushmen

The Bushmen claim that the increasingly authoritarian government of General Ian Khama views them as a national embarrassment, wishing to see them forcibly integrated into mainstream society in the name of “progress”, says Survival. Meanwhile, wealthy big game hunters from abroad are welcomed to newly constructed state-of-the-art game lodges in the area and, on the other hand, the Kalahari Bushmen continue to face widespread ill-treatment, lack of access to safe drinking water and impoverishment.

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