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Rights Group Likens Bushmen Plight to Slavery


The human rights group Survival International released a new report Thursday comparing the situation of Botswana’s Bushmen to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The report is being issued to mark the UN Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

The report says the same arguments used to defend slavery “bear a striking similarity” to those used to justify the eviction of the Bushmen from their ancestral lands.

The Gana and Gwi Bushmen were relocated from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002. Last December, they won a court case to return to their lands. However, the government says only those named in the lawsuit, several hundred, should be allowed to return. Those who have returned accuse the government of preventing them from hunting, bringing in goats or using a nearby borehole for water.

Survival International Director Stephen Corry says there’s a worldwide prejudice against “tribal and indigenous people.”

“It’s very clear that there’s an attitude that they are somehow inferior, that they need to catch up, that they are uncivilized. They need to be civilized. And this is exactly the same thing which was said about the slave trade 200 years ago. I mean I think it is very easy to forget that the slave trade had a lot of defenders. People who were arguing that it benefited and helped civilize Africans. And that’s a direct quote from somebody in 1774,” he says.

Corry says that the government is using old arguments in its relocation of the Bushmen.

“The Botswanan government thinks their way of life is inferior. It sees them as hunter-gatherers, who should stop being hunter-gatherers and should, as it were, join the mainstream of society,” he says.

The Botswanan government has said the Bushmen would benefit by leaving game reserve by having better access to water, social and educational services. A government document says a fund has been set up to provide training and help for Bushmen who want to start small businesses. The government also says it wants to raise their standard of living and avoid land-use conflicts in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve as a result of agriculture and livestock.

Corry says the quality of life and health of the relocated Bushmen has deteriorated sharply. He says that you cannot use force to relocate indigenous people “without damaging them very severely.”

“Wherever there are tribal peoples still living in a way which they wish to live, the dominant societies often regard it as inferior and want to stop it, not least and generally because they want their land. That’s what it usually boils down to,” he says.

The Botswanan government, however, is quoted as saying it wants to bring the Bushmen into “the mainstream society without any detriment to their unique culture and tradition." The country’s foreign minister was quoted in 2001 as saying, “It would be grossly irresponsible if we didn’t expose them to modern day culture.”

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