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Bushmen Continue Fight for Right to Live on Ancestral Land

  • Kim Lewis

Despite their court victory, Bushmen such as these youngsters still face an uncertain future, as they battle to retain their ancestral lands

Despite their court victory, Bushmen such as these youngsters still face an uncertain future, as they battle to retain their ancestral lands

A Botswana judge has reserved judgment in the case of the Kalahari Bushmen's continued legal battle against Botswana’s government. They’re fighting for the right to live freely in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, or CKGR.

In 2002, Botswana’s government evicted the Bushmen from their ancestral land in the CKGR. Then a landmark high court ruling in 2006 confirmed that the Bushmen had a right to return to the CKGR without a permit. However, the government has not been allowing all Bushmen to return without a permit, just those involved in the court case. Many Bushmen say they live in constant fear of threats of violence or arrests for staying beyond what their permit allows.

On Monday, July 29, the Bushmen took the government to court for a third time in another attempt to allow all Bushmen to live in the CKGR. In addition, the tribal advocacy group, Survival International said the Bushmen’s attorney for this case, Gordon Bennett, a top human rights lawyer from London, was denied a visa to enter the country, so he was not present at Monday’s hearing.

Rachel Stenham, campaigner for Survival International, said on a recent trip to Botswana, Bennett was defending another community of Bushmen, when authorities took him in for questioning over his presence in the country. She said they then put him on a visa list, which is very unusual.

“Usually UK citizens do not normally have to apply for a visa to go to Botswana, but he is on a list now where he must apply for a visa, and he did apply for the visa, and his visa application was denied,” explained Stenham, who added there was no real reason given for the denial. She said, “It seems like another tactic by the Botswana government to hinder the Bushmen’s case against it.”

Stenham said government harassment that has been going on for years and years is taking a toll on the Bushmen.

“Although the ruling said all the Bushmen have the right to live on the reserve, the government has since said that only those 189 applicants in the court case are officially allowed to live inside the reserve, and everybody else must ask for a permit, which allows them to stay for only one month inside the reserve,” said the campaigner, who added, “Imagine children who have to go to school outside of the preserve because there aren’t any schools inside the CKGR, or having constantly to apply for permits and then can’t stay beyond one month with their family inside the reserve.”

Stenham said she hopes the latest court case will bring them some hope and respite to their constant plight.