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Botswana Accused Of Forced Removal Of Bushmen Over Diamonds

Groups representing Bushmen in Botswana say the government continues to force them to leave their traditional homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Groups such as Survival International and the First People of the Kalahari blame the discovery of diamonds for the removal. The government downplays that, saying the Bushmen’s lifestyle is no longer compatible with the game reserve, a major tourist attraction.

Johnny Mazower is the research coordinator for Survival International. From London, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the Bushmen’s removal from the game reserve in Botswana.

He says, “What the Bushmen were told when the final wave of evictions happened in earnest in 2002 was that diamonds had been discovered in the reserve and that therefore the people had to move. And that anywhere in Botswana where diamonds were found the people had to leave. And that is what ministers told the Bushmen and they also said that on the record in various press interviews. So, what the government was saying at the time was that because there were known to be large diamond deposits in the reserve that the people had to be moved out. But since the campaign kind of reached an international audience, they have backtracked on that and said that it is to develop the Bushmen and that they cannot be provided with services like health care and educational facilities inside the reserve where they were living, although in fact all those services had been provided perfectly satisfactorily before.”

The Botswanan government says the Bushmen’s lifestyle now conflicts with the game reserve, which is visited by more than a million tourists a year. Mr. Mazower says, “There are two things to say to that. One is that the reserve was established at independence as a homeland for the Bushmen. It was very explicit, very clear in the founding documents that the reason that area was made into a reserve in the first place was to protect the area from encroachment to keep the animals for the people who hunted them, namely the Bushmen. But the second thing is all the scientific studies show that in fact that the wildlife numbers in the reserve have been increasing over recent decades. So, the argument that the Bushmen are somehow responsible for a drop in wildlife numbers and that therefore they can’t be allowed to live in the reserve is simply not backed up by the facts.”

The government also says the removal results from disease outbreaks among the Bushmen’s animals. The Survival International spokesman says, “Sadly, it’s another example of the government finding a reason to move the people out. They said that they had discovered a disease amongst the Bushmen’s goats and that therefore they have sealed off the reserve, which conveniently means no journalists or anybody, Bushmen or outsiders, can get in. And they have removed all the Bushmen’s livestock, which were their only means of survival.

A government spokesperson is quoted as saying, “There was no harassment whatsoever. We didn’t force anybody to leave.” She added that police were there only to help move household items and help load people onto trucks.