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Botswana Bushmen win court case about land

Published by MAC on 2006-12-14

Botswana Bushmen win court case about land

Reuters - Independent on-line

14th December 2006

Botswana's High Court has ruled that hundreds of Bushmen had been wrongly evicted from ancestral hunting grounds in the Kalahari desert and should be allowed to return.

The court ruled 2-1 for the Bushmen in the key issues of the case, which saw Africa's last hunter-gatherers take on one of the continent's most admired governments in a dispute over diamond rich land and development priorities.

Judge Mpaphi Phumaphi, who delivered the swing vote |in the case, said yesterday that Botswana had been wrong to force the Bushmen out of the Kalahari reserve by cutting off their livelihood.

"In my view the simultaneous stoppage of the supply of food rations and the stoppage of hunting licences is tantamount to condemning the remaining residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to death by starvation," he said.

Wearing a waistcoat of animal hide over his shirt and tie, Roy Sesana, head of a Bushman pressure group, did a little dance on coming out of the courtroom.

"My heart today is nice!" he said in English, adding through an interpreter: "My ancestors told me I was going to win."

Jumanda Gakelebone, another Bushman activist, said: "I'm very very glad. I'm expecting to go back tomorrow."

The Bushmen's lawyer, Gordon Bennett, said the court had opened the way for the Bushmen to return to lands that their ancestors have lived on for about 20 000 years.

Chief government lawyer Sydney Pilane stressed that the state had not lost outright because the ruling did not require it to provide essential services to the Bushmen in the reserve. He said the government might appeal.

The court said it saw no grounds for out-of-court claims by the Bushmen that the government and diamond giant De Beers wanted to clear the land for diamond mining - the basis for a publicity push by Western pressure groups who've backed the Bushmen's cause.

Activists say more than 1 000 Bushmen want to go back to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area of desert the size of Belgium which the government has set up as one of Africa's largest protected nature reserves.

Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, delivering a minority opinion ahead of the verdict, said the case should be dismissed.

But Judge Unity Dow disagreed, saying Botswana's government had "failed to take account of the knowledge and culture" of the Bushmen when it expelled them. "In 2002 they were dispossessed forcibly, unlawfully and without their consent."

The Bushmen say their way of life was being wiped out as they were resettled in bleak camps where they were unable to use their traditional hunting skills.

Botswana argued that Western activists, who have won the backing of Desmond Tutu and British actress Julie Christie, have romanticised a Bushman lifestyle that vanished long ago.

It says the Basarwa, also known as the San, are a danger to wildlife and that the Kalahari reserve is a poverty trap which stops the San integrating into society and denies them access to healthcare and education


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