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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Botswana bushmen in legal fight
Kalahari bushmen in Botswana
The bushmen's way of life has changed
A group of bushmen from Botswana who claim the government illegally evicted them from their ancestral lands have begun challenging the move in court.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve used to be home to thousands of indigenous bushmen, but now only 100 or so remain.

Their lawyer told the court the case was about their right to choose where and how they lived and at what pace to integrate with the outside world.

The government says it could no longer provide services in such remote areas.

It argues that the bushmen - known as the Basarwa community - no longer live a traditional hunting existence and so do not belong in an animal reserve.

Water shut-off

The case began at a temporary courtroom in a school in New Xade, the biggest of the villages created to house the bushmen who have been resettled from the game reserve.

Judges, lawyers and court officials wore gowns, bibs and all their formal attire except wigs for the high court's opening session.

Their lawyer, Gordon Bennett, told the court: "The Botswana constitution protects the rights of its citizens to live anywhere they want. By relocating the bushmen, the government overlooked the constitutional right of the bushmen."

Mr Bennett claimed the Botswana government had acted illegally by cutting water supplies in the reserve to force them from their ancestral land.

The Basarwa are recognised by many internationally as the indigenous people and claim a right to stay on their ancestral land.

But the government argues it has become just too expensive to provide fresh water and other services to remote parts of the Kalahari, and that they need to be moved to more accessible areas where education and support can be provided.

Reserve visit

The BBC's correspondent in the region, Alastair Leithead, describes the case as a historic one for the rights of bushmen in southern Africa.

If they win, he says, it could have serious implications for the Botswana government.

The judges, lawyers and court officials spent four days travelling through the reserve to establish how the bushmen live today ahead of the case.

Our correspondent says it is clear they no longer live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle and keep domesticated animals in the reserve - something the government says is to the detriment of the wildlife and should not be allowed in the reserve.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Alistair Leithead
"The case...is expected to last for some weeks"



SEE ALSO:
Kalahari bushmen fight eviction
05 Jul 04  |  Africa
Bushmen take Botswana to court
27 Mar 02  |  Africa
Botswana cuts Bushman services
23 Jan 02  |  Africa
Losing battle for Kalahari
19 Jul 01  |  Africa


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