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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 18:28 GMT
Botswana Bushmen's last stand
Kalahari desert
The Kalahari desert is the ancestral home of the San
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By the BBC's Carolyn Dempster
Away from the prying eyes of the world, the last remaining Kalahari Bushmen, or San people of Botswana, are being starved of food and water in a bid to force them off the land their forefathers have roamed for the past 30,000 years.

This is the final chapter in a 17-year saga which has seen the relocation of some 2,200 San out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) into resettlement camps by the Botswana Government.

Water tanks have been removed from the six settlements of Kalahari San that remain inside the 52000 kmē reserve - about the size of Togo or Denmark. The water pump at the Mothomelo borehole has been dismantled.

The special game permits which enabled the San, the last remaining hunter-gatherers in Africa, to hunt a limited quota of wild animals, and gather veldt foods and fruits have been withdrawn.

Now fewer than 30 of the Kalahari San remain.

Underground wealth

The government says the resettlement programme is for the benefit the San.

Most of Botswana's 50,000 San population has already been relocated into 63 resettlement villages, where water, health and education services are provided.

Government truck removing tank from Kukamma settlement
The government took the water tank away
"We are a little puzzled about the fact that the world is so alarmed," says Major General Moeng Pheto, a retired army officer overseeing the relocation programme.

"We are doing what we consider to be the best for our people."

"We want to empower the Basarwa and make sure they have a future in this country," General Pheto adds, "because they cannot forever remain nomadic."

But critics have compared the resettlement villages to reservations established in North America.

The Botswana Government has also been accused of putting wildlife before people, and securing its mineral interests.

The central Kalahari is rich in diamond and other mineral deposits. A successful land claim by the San might make it more difficult for the government to exploit any mineral finds, although the state owns all mineral deposits in Botswana.

Legal moves

Next week several hundred former central Kalahari San residents will take the government to court to challenge the removals, and demand they be allowed to return.

70-year-old Gabaila Matabani
Gabaila and her belongings have been taken away
Roy Sesana is the first applicant in the case and a founder member of the First People of the Kalahari, a non-government organization established in 1993 to represent the residents of the CKGR.

Speaking through an interpreter in his native seG//ana language he explained: "When I went to Molapo I found my wives and children dismantling the huts to go."

"They had been told by the officials that if they stayed behind, the soldiers would come and put them inside the huts and burn them. They had no choice."

"The government is forcing people to move. We are being treated like refugees," Mr Sesana says.

Under pressure

It is a long hot drive to the semi-desert scrubland of the game reserve.

When we got to the in the settlement of Kukamma, government cattle trucks were already parked waiting to load up the meagre possessions of a handful of San and BaKgalagadi families.

I thought that the government would be helping us, but the government is killing us

Tshekelo Mogolarijo, 65

The remaining residents were clearly under enormous pressure to pack up and go.

While officials from the local Ghanzi and Kweneng districts busily directed the dismantling of the huts, we sat sharing a watermelon with the chief's family.

Every member of the family received a slice of the sweet delicacy. Not one pip was squandered, but carefully collected in a small calabash for future cultivation.

The moment was abruptly terminated with the arrival of Department of Wildlife officials who demanded our permit and then ordered us to leave immediately.

Danqoo Xhukuri, chairman of the First People, says he believes it is because the government "doesn't want anyone present to witness the final forced removal of the last of the San."


General Pheto denies that the CKGR residents are being forced to relocate.

San children in Kaudwane resettlement village
Hundreds of San children have been resettled
"The only force and intimidation that we know of," he says, is exerted on the San "by the NGOs who have been intimidating those who want to relocate."

He also says the San of the central Kalahari have been consulted for a long time about the move.

They have been encouraged by the government to move out of the reserve, with generous offers of money, goats, cattle, and promises of jobs and a better quality of life.

But many of the San who have already relocated to the villages of New Xade and Kaudwane say they were bribed and coerced into moving.

They tell a tale of an impoverished existence, depending on government food rations for survival.

No hope

Phutego Banweng, 40, believed the government's promises of a better life, and relocated willingly to Kaudwane in 1997.

He says he did not get any compensation, and when he found that the promises of jobs and development were empty, he returned to the San settlement at Mothomelo. But he was moved out of the reserve a second time.
Roy Sesana, founder of the First People of the Kalahari
Sesana is challenging the government in the courts

Life in the re-settlement camp of New Xade is just as bleak. Alcoholism is rife, and an aura of despair and listlessness hangs over the dusty dwellings.

There are no jobs, there is no grazing for the goats and cattle, no veldt food to gather, no wild animals to hunt.

The residents have nothing to do. They are 70km from the nearest town, an expensive and difficult 3-hour journey away.

Tshekelo Mogolarijo, 65, was resettled here 5 years ago. "We thought that the government would help us," he says. "But I think that the government is killing us."

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Africa
Botswana cuts Bushman services
19 Jul 01 | Africa
Losing battle for Kalahari
04 Feb 02 | Africa
In pictures: End of a way of life
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Botswana
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