Indigenous BotswanaMonday 22 January 2016
The Botswana government does not recognize any specific ethnic groups as indigenous to the country, maintaining instead that all citizens of the country are indigenous. However, 3.3% of the population identifies as belonging to indigenous groups, including the San (known in Botswana as the Basarwa) who, in July 2015, numbered some 62,500. In the south of the country are the Balala, who number some 1,700 and the Nama, a Khoekhoe-speaking people who number 2,100. The majority of the San, Nama and Balala reside in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana. The San in Botswana were traditionally hunter-gatherers but today the vast majority consists of small-scale agro-pastoralists, cattle post workers, or people with mixed economies who reside both in rural and urban areas. They are sub-divided into a large number of named groups, most of whom speak their own mother tongue in addition to other languages. These groups include the Ju/’hoansi, Bugakhwe, Khwe-ǁAni, Ts'ixa, ǂX'ao-ǁ'aen, !Xóõ, ǂHoan, ‡Khomani, Naro, G/ui, G//ana, Tsasi, Deti, Shua, Tshwa, Danisi and /Xaise. The San, Balala, and Nama are among the most underprivileged people in Botswana, with a high percentage living below the poverty line.
Botswana is a signatory to the conventions on women (CEDAW), the Rights of the Child (CRC) and on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CEDR). It is also a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but it has not signed the only international human rights convention that deals with indigenous peoples, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 of 1989 of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
There are no specific laws on indigenous peoples’ rights in the country nor is the concept of indigenous peoples included in the Botswana Constitution.
The Republic of Botswana was rated the best country on the African continent in regard to the rule of law and governance according to the World Justice Project (WJP) in June, 2015. In the Varieties of Democracy index, Botswana’s democratic system was also highly ranked. Botswana has long been lauded for its economic performance, having been rated a Middle Income Country in the early part of the new millennium and having lowered poverty levels significantly in 2015, according to the World Bank. Nevertheless, a quarter of the children in the country are poor and are at risk of falling further into poverty. The indigenous peoples of Botswana, the San, Balala, and Nama, remain at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.
Botswana is known for its lengthy record, the longest in Africa, of 11 successive democratic elections. While it is a multiparty state, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) dominates the political scene. In the most recent elections in October 2014, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) challenged the primacy of the BDP. Jumanda Gakelebone, one of the indigenous protagonists in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) struggle against the government of Botswana, was elected as a UDC district councilor for New Xade in the Ghanzi District Council.
Botswana’s reputation as a beacon of democracy and human rights continued to suffer in 2015 because of its treatment of its indigenous minorities, particularly those in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve who were harassed, intimidated, mistreated, and denied access to water. There were signs, however, that the government’s hardline approach to the people in the Central Kalahari was beginning to change. In the first week of February, 2015 a meeting between Botswana President Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama and Roy Sesana of First People of the Kalahari was convened in order to address issues surrounding the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the needs of the people in the reserve.
As an outgrowth of this meeting, a decision by President Khama was made to have several of his ministers meet with the residents of the Central Kalahari, which occurred on 30-31 August 2015 in Mothomelo, Metseamonong and Molapo. Present were the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health, Local Government and Rural Development, and Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism. Several dozen community members participated in each of the three locations. The government officials promised that they would restore services in the Central Kalahari, including development of water sources, mobile health visits, and support for the establishment of community-based tourism activities. If the government honours its promises, this will be a sign of a major policy shift in the treatment of indigenous peoples in the country.
The San and Bakgalagadi of the CKGR had filed 4 legal cases against the government of Botswana over the period from 2002 to 2013, the last of which, concerning rights of entrance to the reserve, was dismissed by a High Court judge in early 2015.
Another important Botswana High Court case involved Ranyane, a village in southern Ghanzi District where the Naro San residents had resisted resettlement to a !Xóõ settlement, Bere, and as a result had their water and other services stopped by the Ghanzi District Council. The case was dismissed on 21 October, 2015 in a poorly argued judgment. The judgment contended Ranyane was an ‘unrecognized settlement’ in a Wildlife Management Area and that the services that had been provided there were ‘only temporary.’ In fact, the borehole had existed on a trek route between Nojane and the main Ghanzi-Lobatse road for decades, and the San who lived there had been visited by hunters, traders, and trekkers in 1868-72 and again in 1874-76 and by anthropologists in 1921. The Ghanzi District Council had provided food, water, and diesel for the borehole to Ranyane since the 1970s. The decision not to restore water was in violation of the Appeals Court judgment on the Central Kalahari water case of 2011, Botswana’s own Water Policy, and was also not in keeping with the United Nations position on the Human Right to Water (HRW).
Drought, Climate Change, and the Water CrisisBotswana was coping with a serious drought in 2015. The drought, which was declared officially by President Khama in June, has affected agricultural yields, livestock production, and water availability. In some of the remote area settlements such as Xere in Central District and Rooibrak in Ghanzi District, residents were having to go as far as 15-20 kilometres to fetch water. The decision of the Botswana government to privatize water, allowing private companies to maintain and repair rural water systems, exacerbated the crisis. Water prices had been raised substantially by these companies, while the availability of water in many rural communities decreased by half.
Climate change was an important focus of both the government and indigenous peoples in Botswana in 2015. Half a dozen representatives of Botswana San organizations and over two dozen Botswana government officials attended the COP 21 Climate Change meetings held in Paris from November 30th to December 1st 2015. The San and Bakgalagadi who attended the meeting took part in side-events involving indigenous peoples and climate change and engaged in discussions about how to frame the final text of the COP 21 agreement. Some of the Botswana indigenous representatives worked with the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) in helping to develop an open letter to the Ministers on why specific reference to the rights of indigenous peoples was necessary in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement. They were deeply concerned that the Paris Agreement had removed the reference to human rights in the main text of the agreement and placed it in the Preamble. Indigenous peoples in Botswana, the San representatives said, are highly dependent on natural resources including wildlife, wild plants, water, and grazing which are being affected adversely by climate change.
Indigenous Gender IssuesIn addition to the problems that indigenous women face in Botswana due to drought and climate change, they also face other difficulties including high levels of discrimination, gender-based violence, and rape. Women have lower access than men to allocations of arable land and business sites from land boards, and they experience problems in getting cases heard before the customary courts and magistrates’ courts. Indigenous women have been arrested for possession of ostrich eggs and ostrich eggshell products because they allegedly were in violation of the Botswana Ostrich Management Plan Policy which required individuals in possession of these items to have licenses from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. One way that women were able to get ostrich eggshells for craft production was from non-government organizations such as Ghanzi Craft and Kuru, which had licenses.
Botswana’s Wildlife-Conservation PoliciesAs a result of the hunting ban imposed by President Khama in 2014, the livelihoods of San, Bakgalagadi, and other communities declined in 2015. Whereas in the past the community trusts received lease fees, meat, medicines, and other goods and services from safari companies with which they had joint venture agreements, they now receive few benefits, and poverty levels and hunger were on the increase. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that government compensation for losses resulting from predation by wild animals was no longer being paid in many of the rural areas. In 2015, some community trusts with San majorities were taken over by private companies which kept the bulk of the funds generated by ecotourism to themselves.
Botswana San have been active in raising their concerns about the deleterious effects of the hunting ban in international meetings. These issues were addressed at the 14th annual meetings of the United Nations Permanent Fund for Indigenous Issues (UNPFI) held in New York City from 20 April to 1 May, 2015).
Residents of Botswana and neighbouring countries have been very much alarmed by the government’s shoot-to-kill policy as an anti-poaching strategy, saying that innocent people were being killed on the vague suspicion of being poachers. They have lobbied the President, Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism, and the Parliament to reverse it.
Poaching can be more effectively deterred by involving community members in local conservation programs while permitting hunting for subsistence. This idea was a major emphasis of a meeting held in South Africa in February 2015 on ‘Beyond Enforcement.’ which was attended by San from Botswana. One of them commented afterwards that “We should be known and respected as hunters and gatherers … If you say we can’t hunt, you say, ‘Don’t Eat’ . . . A lot of us are going to be imprisoned. There is torture in the CKGR…People are living in fear.” Part of the purpose of the South African meeting was to generate recommendations that would be considered at the international summit on the Illegal Wildlife Trade which was hosted by Botswana on 25 March, 2015. At that meeting, the President of Botswana issued a call for greater attention to wildlife conservation.
The people of rural Botswana, for their part, appreciated the government’s position but wanted to see greater emphasis on programs that provided employment and income. They also wanted to see a diversification of the Botswana economy away from diamonds and other minerals to a broader-based development effort, one that promoted agriculture, small businesses, craft production and sale, and cultural as well as nature-based tourism.
Mining IssuesThe indigenous peoples of Botswana continued to raise concerns over the expansion of mineral prospecting and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activities that were on-going in the Okavango World Heritage Site, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and other areas of Botswana.
Residents of the reserve were also concerned about the media stories that another diamond mine was to be opened in the Central Kalahari. They were also aware of the Khoemacau Copper- Silver Project which had announced that it was going to go ahead with its mining activities. In December, 2015, the people of the Central Kalahari were gratified to learn of the possible split between the President of Botswana, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, and his brother, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, over the mining in the Central Kalahari. Tshekedi Khama questioned the wisdom of awarding a license to the Ghagoo mine of Gem Diamonds, saying that “We cannot have degradation of the land.” While a few San and Bakgalagadi were employed at the Ghagoo (Gope) mine, the people of the area continued to press for greater benefits to be provided by Gem Diamonds to the Gope community.
Political Representation and San LeadershipBotswana’s indigenous peoples continued to be concerned in 2015 about political representation, pushing for political involvement at all levels of government. While some communities had democratically elected San headmen/headwomen, there were numerous remote area settlements with San majorities that lacked San representational leaders. One example is the village of Nata, whose Bamangato chief resigned from the chieftainship due to ill health in early October, 2015. The San of Nata wrote a letter to the Bamangwato Tribe asking for a San leader to be appointed in his place. Future San leaders may share ideas through the San Youth Network, an on-line publication launched by San students at the University of Botswana which San and others across the country and internationally can access.
Programs for Alleviation of PovertyThe Remote Area Development Program (RADP) is one of several in Botswana that targets people with significant needs, including destitutes (those individuals who do not have the means to support themselves), the elderly, school children, people living with disabilities, and ‘the poorest of the poor’. In addition to the RADP the Botswana government has put in place several other social protection programs, including the Poverty Eradication Program, the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), the school feeding program, and what is known as Ipelegeng (Self-Reliance) which in 2015 was supporting some 40,000 people per month with labour-based relief and development programs.
In 2015, 442 remote area dwellers received livestock under the RADP, a sizable number of which died as a result of the drought. The drought relief feeding programs implemented in Botswana in 2015 assisted over half a million people in a country that in July 2015 had a population of 2,182,719. Problems with these programs include a lack of sufficient coverage, especially in the remotest parts of the country, lack of sustainability, denial of support to communities that the government wanted to resettle such as Ranyane in Ghanzi District, and the danger of creating a dependency syndrome.
Appropriate and Safe Education for San StudentsAccess to educational opportunities for people in remote areas continued to be lower than in the villages and towns of the country. Three quarters of all children lacked access to pre-school education. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Basic Skills Development (MOESD) maintained its policy of requiring classes in schools to be taught in Setswana and English instead of allowing the teaching of mother-tongue languages. Indigenous peoples in Botswana care deeply about preserving their languages, some of which were considered critically endangered because of the low number of fluent speakers. Dropout rates of San, Nama, and Balala children were high in 2015 due to problems of bullying, intimidation, and discrimination in the schools.
All too often, children in remote areas are transported to and from their schools on trucks. On 12 November, 2015, a tragic truck accident occurred near Dutlwe in western Kweneng involving secondary school students from Matsha College in Kang. Seven students died, and 126 students were injured. Subsequently calls were heard from local politicians, members of Parliament, and non-government organizations for investigations into the accident and a ban on the use of trucks for carrying students in remote areas.
On the positive side, the Botswana government has invested a great deal of money in making sure that some places in remote areas such as the CKGR resettlement site of Kaudwane were ‘oases of technology’ where local people could have access to the worldwide web through the expansion of communication technologies. This increased availability of information was contributing to a heightened sense of awareness of their identity both as indigenous people and as citizens of Botswana.
Authors DataRobert Hitchcock is a member of the board of the Kalahari Peoples Fund (KPF), a non-profit organization devoted to assisting people in southern Africa. firstname.lastname@example.org
Maria Sapignoli is in the Department of Law and Anthropology of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale), Germany, email@example.com
Judith Frost is an editor and researcher based in New York who has been involved with indigenous peoples’ issues for many years. firstname.lastname@example.org
Wayne A. Babchuk holds a joint Assistant Professor of Practice position in the Department of Educational Psychology and in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln (UNL), Lincoln, Nebraska. email@example.com
About this site Supporting the Bushmen so they can stay in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and live there as they wish and as long as they wish. The CKGR was created for them.
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