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How Botswana Runs Roughshod Over the Rights of Its Bushmen Minority

Botswana has moved Bushmen to resettlement camps and banned hunting.

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The Court delivered its judgment in December 2006, and rejected outright the claims of trespass. It ruled that on the contrary the Bushmen had been removed from the CKGR unlawfully and against their will, and had a constitutional right to return and to live there for so long as they wanted.

One judge held that the forced relocation had abridged Bushmen’s rights to “life, liberty, and freedom of movement,” and that the root cause of these violations was a view of “development” that “failed to take into consideration [their] knowledge, culture, and ideologies”. All three judges held that the hunting ban was unlawful. One ruled that the effect of the ban had been to condemn the residents of the CKGR to death by starvation, and that it violated their right to life.

The government chose not to appeal. It appears to have thought a more effective route was to emasculate the High Court’s decision in any way that it could. That, at all events, is precisely what it set out to do.

It refused, for example, to provide vehicles to return people to the settlements from which, so the Court had ruled, they should not have been removed in the first place. Those who could not beg or borrow other means of transport were marooned in government camps.

It airbrushed the CKGR management plan so as to remove all reference to the Reserve’s human population. It even sought, apparently, to misrepresent the effect of the ruling. The Minister for Wildlife is said to have told Bushmen that nothing in the Court judgment had altered the fact that the CKGR was meant only for “game” and not for people, and that they still had no right to be there. This was simply not true.

It ignored all applications for new hunting permits, so that the ban remains in full force despite the court ruling. Bushmen must still decide whether to hunt and risk five years in prison if they are caught, or face starvation for themselves and their families. As one Bushman has told Survival: ‘We depend on the natural resources of the CKGR for our food. How are we expected to survive if we cannot hunt?’

To US Senators who had expressed their concern, President Mogae insisted that Bushmen would be permitted to hunt with bows and arrows (rather than with horses and spears, presumably, because Bushmen have never used guns). He said the same thing in radio interviews within Botswana. But when the pilot of a light aircraft spotted a small hunting party in the Reserve in 2012, the fact that it had had been armed only with bows and arrows did not stop a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately for the Bushmen the pilot was President Ian Khama, who does not share the views of his predecessor.

So determined is the present administration to maintain the ban that it has either deluded itself or sought to delude others about the state of the law. Although the issue does not obviously fall within his remit the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security has informed the National Assembly that “the Wildlife Management and National Parks Act prohibits hunting inside the game reserves and national parks save for scientific purposes only. The [Sesana] judgment did not render unconstitutional existing laws, which continue to apply.”

This is nonsense, as the Minister should have realized. The Act does not prohibit hunting in a game reserve at all. On the contrary, Regulations made under the Act specifically allow for the issue of permits “to persons who can rightly lay claim to hunting rights in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.” Successive governments have preferred to pretend that this Regulation does not exist.

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