Botswana is often praised by the international community as a ‘beacon of democracy’ in an otherwise troubled part of the world filled with conflict and controversies. However, this sentiment is one that cannot be echoed by the indigenous people of the land, the Bushmen.

The Bushmen have resided in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve for centuries, where they have lived by Bushmen tradition peacefully- hunting game for survival and rearing future generations on their ancient traditions. The Bushmen have a deep respect for the land they live on and as a result, do little harm to the environment. They hunt antelope for food and use them for medicine, an un-endangered species that roam in abundance on the land. The Bushmen are one of the few communities left that are still practising such ancient traditions, and without them preserving and nurturing these values, they would simply be lost. The discovery of the second largest diamond mine in the world during the 1980s located on their land has literally uprooted their lives.

Botswana: ‘ A Beacon of Democracy’

The discovery of the diamond mine lead to three waves of expulsions; in 1997, 2002 and 2005, the Bushmen were removed from their lands forcibly, with the threat of violence from the army should they resist. They were moved into resettlement camps on the outskirts of the land, hidden away and relying solely on government handouts after having their livelihoods stripped from them. The conditions of the camps can be compared to refugee camps, with diseases like HIV and AIDs running rampant. The Bushmen, a proud and hardworking people, were left without opportunities to work and often succumbed to alcohol abuse (brought to exploit the vulnerable Bushmen for the little money they had). The water supplies back at the reserve were cemented over and health care facilities were destroyed in order to prevent the Bushmen from returning.

A landmark court ruling in 2006 in the Botswana High Court was celebrated by the Bushmen as it ruled that they were illegally evicted from their land and gave them the right to return and hunt. However, over a decade later and the conditions of the Bushmen appear not to have improved. The government have been countering this victory by banning the Bushmen’s lawyer from entering Botswana and creating uninhabitable conditions for the natives. The premise to return to the reserve also came heavily caveated, meaning that most Bushmen have still not been able to return home, and those that have returned are suffering due to a lack of clean water and basic facilities. Return to the land was given on a permit basis which is not heritable, meaning families have been torn apart and leaving the Bushmen with a legitimate fear that once the current generation dies- they will be ‘legislated into extinction’.

Former President Khana: The Bushmen Have a “Primitive Life of Deprivation” and a “Primeval Life of a Bygone Era”

The Bushmen may not be able to return to their ancestral homes, however, tourism has bloomed for the nation- which has been receiving high praise for its take on ‘sustainable tourism’ and conservation. In 2014 the government issued a nationwide ban on hunting in an attempt to protect the wildlife, this followed with a ‘shoot on sight’ policy for anyone deemed to be poaching. However, it appears this law came with a ‘special dispensation’ for those with financial influence. Exceptions have been made for fee-paying hunters with luxury hunting lodges set up for wealthy westerners who visit for trophy hunting pleasures. Simultaneously removing the rights of the indigenous people on the land who hunt for survival. This undoubtedly brings into question the intentions of the government in their efforts at conservation and protection of wildlife, as they appear to be unable to protect the very people who have lived on the land for centuries.

“Bushmen are not poachers. We hunt to survive, we don’t kill animals in large quantities. We get what we want to survive.”

The situation of the Bushmen in Botswana has been described as being similar to that of apartheid South Africa and unfortunately, isn’t one that is rare in its situation. UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz has raised the issue of conservation at the expense of tribal peoples numerous times. Governments are offered large sums of money for conservation efforts by global banks which has corrupted the intentions of host countries. With violence against the Bushmen going largely unreported by international media and a focus on their evergrowing tourism appeal- the plight of the Bushmen risks going unnoticed. Here we see yet another example of where the needs of greedy corporations and governments take precedence over the lives of the people of the land. Reports of Bushmen being shot at from helicopters are becoming commonplace, as they struggle for survival whilst companies like De Beers cash in on their natural resources. The Bushmen are being exiled and killed for monetary gains, with the government using the ruse of ‘conservation’ to hide under. The Botswana government must act now to deliver the basic human rights of the indigenous Bushmen, allow them to return to their homes and the right to hunt for the survival of their people.

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