Botswana Government at War with Indigenous San

31 May
photo by hobgadlng / flickr (cc-by-nd 2.0)

photo by hobgadlng / flickr (cc-by-nd 2.0)

by Richard Lee / OSISA

Despite court defeats and international condemnation, the government of Botswana is continuing its assault on the San by attempting to forcibly relocate another community from land they have occupied for decades, says the Khwedom Council, a non-governmental organisation advocating for the rights of the San (or Basarwa) people.

“It is another sad season for the San in Botswana as the government seems to have declared war on our people,” said Keikabile Mogodu, Director of the Khwedom Council. “It appears that the government will never tolerate San in Botswana and will do everything it can to destroy any trace of the first people of this land.”

The latest confrontation between the state and the San is taking place at Ranyane, around 220 km south of Gantsi, where there is a San community of more than 600. The community has access to a borehole but lacks all other basic services since the government has always refused to recognise it as a settlement.

Now, instead of ensuring that the San in Ranyane gain access to clean water, sanitation, health care and education, the government has chosen – without consultation – to relocate the people on the pretext that they are living on an animal corridor within a Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

“Ranyane is surrounded by commercial farm land and that is why the government is planning to relocate the San,” said Mogodu. “For decades, our people have been pushed from one area to another to make way for commercial farmers, and now the government is threatening to do the same thing again.”

This is not the first time that the government has acted in such a ruthless manner towards the San. Most recently, the San were forcibly and violently removed from their ancestral home in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). At the time, the government justified this inhumane conduct by claiming that the presence of the San in the CKGR was incompatible with the preservation of wildlife and biodiversity within the park, ignoring the fact that the San people have been the custodians of the land, plants and animals in the Kgalagadi for centuries.

“It is clear that the government wants to use ‘nation-building’ to force the San to assimilate into the dominant Tswana culture so as to permanently erase their language and culture,” said Mogodu. “In the process, the government aims to take all our land away and use it for cattle farming or tourism.”

The Khwedom Council has made repeated attempts to open a dialogue with the government, including the president and ombudsman, but to no avail.

So with no end in sight to the government’s campaign against the San and with another round of forced relocations on the horizon, the Khwedom Council would like to know:

  • When will the relocation of the San people end?
  • When will the San be able to live at peace without fear of relocation?
  • Is this all that the San can expect from independence and democracy?
  • When will the San be treated as equal citizens of this country?
  • What will it take for the government to recognise that the San have the same basic rights as all other citizens – including the right to be treated with respect and dignity?

One Response to “Botswana Government at War with Indigenous San”

  1. Heron May 31, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Sadly part of a long line of terrible abuses committed by colonial and post-colonial rulers against the San. Aside from the more obvious reasons of destroying their way of life to give their land to farmers and corporations many African leaders feel justified in doing so because they want to destroy traditional lifeways because they feel that such ‘progress’ enhances the stature of their country (and therefore their status as rulers). I do remember, in the past, having read about the struggles of the San before, come across comments by Botswanan officials who feel embarassed by the fact that there still are hunter-gatherers in Botswana. I hope the San can win this one.

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