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Botswana High Court to Rule Wednesday on Bushmen Case

After four years of litigation, the Botswana High Court is expected to rule Wednesday on a case brought by the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert against the government. The Bushmen went to court after the government evicted them from their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002. The Botswana government had said the eviction was necessary to bring modernization and development to the Bushmen.

Jonathan Mazower is research coordinator for Survival international, the London-based human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples. He said the Bushmen are hoping for a favorable decision today.

“The Bushmen are obviously hoping that it is favorable. They have been waiting for four years for this judgment, and I think it is true to say that they are in a very desperate circumstances because they are virtually all living outside their ancestral land in government resettlement camps where they are completely dependent on monthly rations from the government. So they are desperately hoping that the judgment will allow them to finally return to their homeland,” he said.

Mazower described as ironic the Botswana government’s claim that the Bushmen’s eviction was necessary to improve their condition.

“The Bushmen, when they were living on their land, had a school; they had functioning health post and health clinic. They even had mobile health teams visiting them, and they were amongst the few people in Botswana who were completely self-sufficient. They really didn’t need help from anybody. Whereas now it’s completely un-natural way of life for them, and really such an outdated concept of development this idea that you can forcibly relocate the people against their will, saying we know what’s in your best interest. We’re going to impose our model of development on you. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Mazower said.

He again reiterated Survival International’s claim that the Botswana government relocated the Bushmen because of the discovery of diamonds in the area.

Mazower described the Bushmen’s next plan of action should the Botswana High Court rule against them Wednesday.

“I think it’s very likely that if they lose the case today, the Bushmen will appeal, and Survival will certainly help them in their appeal. But I think more importantly whatever the court decides, this issue can only be decided really by the Botswana government. The solution is in their hands rather than the court. The government had said quite openly that even if they lose they would appeal, and even if they lose the appeal, they would simply change the law so that they can get their own way,” he said.

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