Botswana's high court ruled Wednesday that the so-called Bushmen of the Kalahari were illegally evicted from their ancestral land and should be allowed to return. A three-judge panel said the government illegally expelled the tribe from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002. The decision is being hailed as a victory for indigenous peoples. But what’s next for the Botswana government which had argued that the eviction was necessary to improve the Bushmen's access to health care and education.
Lapologang Lekoa is Botswana’s ambassador to the United States. He said his government is studying the court’s ruling.
“First of all as a country that respects laws, and which is run and governed on the basis of law and not people, we respect the verdict or the decision of the court. And our courts are also independent. We have an independent judiciary which has a track record since independence 40 year ago. So what the government will do is study the verdict and decide one way or the other what course of action to take,” he said.
Ambassador Lekoa said he did not know whether his would appeal the court’s ruling or not.
“I think by the time it came out it was already after official working hours for the civil service for the government officials. And therefore the first full day for them is tomorrow (Thursday) when they will start looking into the matter and then decide what to do,” Lekoa said.
He rejected allegations by rights groups that the government evicted the Bushmen because it had discovered diamonds on their land.
“The government has always told everybody who wanted to listen that there has never been an intention to do any mining in that area. It was just a matter of the laws governing the country. But it had nothing to do with mining. For your information, if you are going to do any mining, you don’t expel people who stay around there. You need them to get employed there and do some work there,” Lekoa said.
Meanwhile Survival International, the London-based human rights group, which campaigned on behalf of the Bushmen, said the verdict is a victory for all indigenous peoples.
“Obviously we are delighted and the Bushmen are absolutely overjoyed, and we are all just hoping that the government in Botswana will realize that this is an opportunity for it to do the right thing to allow the Bushmen to go back and remove this terrible stain on the reputation of the country that it has allowed to developed over the last four years since the Bushmen were relocated,” said Jonathan Mazower, research coordinator for Survival International.
He said the Botswana high court decision showed that it is not acceptable to push the Bushmen off their land in the same manner that American Indians were by settlers.
“I think this is a landmark ruling, and it’s tremendously encouraging news for indigenous peoples around the world because what the Botswana government had done to the Bushmen was common place in say North America a 150 to 200 years ago. But everybody had hoped that it was nowadays it was unacceptable to treat people in this way. So the court has reaffirmed that it is indeed unacceptable that these people cannot simply be pushed around, pushed off their land in the same way that American Indians or Australian aborigines were by settlers,” Mazower said.
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