Basarwa of the CKGR have a case
Posted on Feb 05, 2011
"Every one of us must exercise an independent and critical mind when addressing the issue of forced relocation of Basarwa. We should not allow government to indoctrinate us and turn us into conformists."
Two opinion pieces from the Botswana nwspaper Mmegi
The history of this country is characterised by episodes of tribal discrimination which ultimately led to a constitution that institutionalises tribal inequality.
There are examples of tribes that have been marginalised; others have been, lingering at the bottom of societal strata, while others have been denied land ownership rights. Government has failed to promote the culture of minority tribes. Their languages are not taught in schools and neither are they spoken on radio or any official medium. Tribal land is named after a particular tribe hence Morolong for Barolong, Gammangwato for Bangwato, etc, thouhgh, we never hear of Sarweng for Basarwa despite the fact that history teaches us that early settlers in Botswana were the San and the Khoikhoi, now called Basarwa.
Other people have argued that the fact that Basarwa do not have land is due to the fact that they are nomadic hence they cannot lay claim to any land while others have strongly argued that there was a 'place' that marked this nomadic life. Basarwa were nomadic within a particular circumference, rotating within the same limits thus allowing the land, not occupied, to 'recover' before returning to it.
History further tells us how Basarwa were moved from the fertile and wild animal rich land, where today we have Ghanzi farms, to the wilderness of the CKGR, which was considered then, to be without any economic significance.
Even then, that was not their permanent area of abode because it was simply a reserve for a species of admiration that attracted a lot of research. Modern settlement patterns indicate that staying in an area for a continuous period of more than 25 years qualifies it as your home. Basarwa have been in the CKGR far more than those years.
In Botswana, other tribes, including the so called minorities, have despised, loathed and considered Basarwa to be less human. They have been raped, tortured, physically and emotionally abused, over-worked, underpaid, denied land rights, degraded, shunned and marginalised.
This attitude has become so common and widespread hence the word 'mosarwa' has become an insult Calling someone 'mosarwa ke wena' in a fit of anger is an insult It is the same attitude, in my opinion, that has influenced government to act with impunity against Basarwa and it is the same attitude that makes Batswana indifferent to the plight of Basarwa. The government cannot believe that Basarwa are capable of fighting for their own tribal rights after so many years of submissiveness and subjugation.
Like the conscience of the National Party in South Africa during the apartheid era, the conscience of the government is dead. So far government has managed to convince the majority of us that the issue is Survival International and not Basarwa. Let us pause and debunk this propaganda.
During the Apartheid era in South Africa, the government embarked on a divide and rule tactic. During that era people were moved from the most productive land and settled in Bantustans where government claimed to haveprovided them with amenities. In actual fact everyone knew that the blacks were making way for white settlers. What a similarity with the Basarwa struggle!
Like the blacks during the apartheid era, Basarwa have been moved to New Xade under the pretext that it is easier for government to provide them with amenities outside the CKGR. They have been given a chief, Lobatse Bleslag, to be precise. Bleslag is the government doormat, a baggage that government carries along every time they tour Europe to give an 'alternative view point' about life in CKGR and tarnish the First People of The Kgalagadi. Like Mangope he sees liberty in New Xade, better life and happiness. Shame.
During the struggle against apartheid, many lobby groups emerged that called for the end to apartheid. Like Botswana, the white minority regime in South Africa unashamedly claimed that they were a sovereign state and they will not tolerate outside interference.
Where do we draw the line of sovereignty? When countries and individuals pump money into Botswana to assist in the fight against HIV/AIDS, when Cuba assists us with medical personnel, when Britain under its DFID program assists with poverty alleviation programs, when countries shower the government with praises for being the shining example of democracy, is this interference with our sovereignty? Does interference in sovereign matters of another country only apply when that particular government is asked to account for its misdeeds?
It is important to remember that at the beginning of this issue of the relocation of Basarwa, some civil society groups were mandated by the First People of the Kgalagadi to negotiate on their behalf. This negotiating team consisted mainly of The Botswana Christian Council and Ditshwanelo and over the course of many years tried to persuade government not to move Basarwa from CKGR but to consider other options of dealing with the issue.The government refused to listen and the negotiations collapsed.
When government moved with speed to implement its decision to move Basarwa, Basarwa had no choice but to engage an outside force that is renowned for fighting for the cause of indigenous people all over the world.
Observance of human rights is not the preserve of anyone sovereign state; it goes beyond borders hence some states interfere in matters of other states whenever there is evidence of abuse, lawlessness and chaos.
Forget about Mogae's assertion that this is a matter of a sovereign state which does not require interference from any outside force. Botswana as a government interfered in sovereign matters of the republic of Lesotho when they sent an 'intervention force' during the chaos that engulfed Lesotho some years back.
The issue of forced relocation of Basarwa from CKGR is chaotic and has gotten out of hand and can no longer be left in the hands of government alone. It requires our input as citizens of this country and anybody who cares about human rights especially the rights of minority groups, because otherwise government is setting a bad precedent.
As a person working in a health setting I cannot help but get angry every time government blows out of proportion issues of physical injury of government officers at the hands of Basarwa. We attend to so many cases of tortured Basarwa at the hands of government operatives that go unreported.
Because of low levels of literacy, low self esteem and lack of knowledge to handle issues of this nature many Basarwa do not report these incidences or even if they do, they go unattended. Basarwa are generally a peace-loving people and it takes real provocation to solicit an aggressive response from them.
Some years back Alice Mogwe, the now director of Ditshwanelo, carried out a research on Basarwa and the report titled "Who was t(here) first" is a stunning revelation of how Basarwa view development.
Government has ignored the contents of that report. At the time when the research was published, government attempted, but in vain, to stifle its circulation and discredit its contents. I wish government can have sense and go back and read that report again as well as resume negotiations with Basarwa or their representatives. I am not an operative of Survival International neither do I hold any brief for Basarwa.
I am a patriotic Motswana who is concerned about the well-being of Batswana and the human rights record of this country. Unlike Professor Good I cannot be kicked out of my country for differing with the government.
Every one of us must exercise an independent and critical mind when addressing the issue of forced relocation of Basarwa. We should not allow government to indoctrinate us and turn us into conformists. We should at all times put a spoke in the wheel of an unjust regime whether the issue at hand directly concerns you or not I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemoller:
- In Germany, the Nazi's came for the communists, And I didn't speak up because I was not a communist
- Then they came for the Jews, And I didn't speak up because I was not a Jew.
- Then they came for the Trade Unionists, And I didn't speak up because I was not a trade Unionist
- Then they came for the Catholics, And I was a Protestant so I didn't speak up
- Then they came for me ....... By that time there was no one left to speak up for anyone.
That article seems more than relevant given the response by some Batswana to the CKGR ruling as revealed by this article by the head of Survival International published by Mmegi Online the previous day
Facebook reveals hostility towards Basarwa
Batswana might like to know about a new Facebook group whose 'friends' often claim to speak for Botswana as a whole.
It's called 'I hate Survival International' and was started on15 January, just two days before the Appeals Court hearing. It consists almost entirely of those who support the old government policy (at least, let's all hope it's old and past) of harassment of Basarwa in the CKGR.
The 'friends' of the group accuse Survival of all manner of bizarre things. We are supposed to be paid by the British government and/or the BBC, and are supposed to want the CKGR diamonds for ourselves. We are, of course, 'colonialist' and 'racist' for opposing the Botswana government: this is perhaps one of the more tedious accusations, which does not grow any less self-contradictory - or indeed, silly - through repetition. But it gets wilder. Consider the following:
"Survival... You Satanists, racists go to hell and burn there. I don't need you to advocate for my country. I don't think you guys are normal, get help from rehabilitate (sic) centres, drugs are hard to overcome, but with time you will get there".
Survival, it is claimed, is supposed to have offered Basarwa money, food and alcohol 'for having sex' (which rather ignores the fact that, for a very long time, Basarwa have had babies without any need for any bribes, presumably in much the same way as everyone else!)
It gets worse though. One of the most crackpot claims is that Survival took 'snuff' and sex videos of Basarwa and posted them on porn sites. The Motswana who makes this deranged allegation does not explain why we might have wanted to do this, or how he claims to know about it, but his passion for his country has drawn him to live in... Britain!
What is more interesting than all this lunacy is that the site clearly shows how correct Survival is about the attitude towards Basarwa displayed by (at least these) government supporters.
The pervasive view is that the Basarwa are living in the Stone Age - a term frequently used - and have no capacity whatsoever to make their own decisions about their own future. It also makes it clear that throwing them off their ancestral land for mining is welcomed. They will, in the words, of one writer, be 'easy to manage'.
Here are just a couple of other comments (with corrected spelling): 'The judgement is neither here nor there, they are still going to relocate, soon we will be mining the resources... and there ain't nothing Survival or Basarwa can do about it.' 'Our government will continue MINING, ALLOCATING, RELOCATING people as (they) see fit.' (original emphasis).
I doubt most Batswana will be overjoyed to know their views are being hijacked by this corrosive - and illegal - hysteria. In my experience, whatever they may think of Survival International, most Batswana support Basarwa rights and believe they should not be treated degradingly (the words of the appeal court about how the government actually has treated them), illegally or with discrimination.
Those that do think Basarwa are human enough to make sensible decisions about their own lives can at least gain some comfort from the fact that the new group has a mere 153 followers - as compared to over 40,000 'friends' of Survival International's real Facebook site.
However, I suggest that perhaps the way these haters of Survival are falsely portraying Batswana views, and the image they are giving about Botswana as a whole, is likely to put off more tourists than it attracts - to say the least.