[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2005, 11:05 GMT
Row over Bushmen 'genocide'
Paul Kenyon
By Paul Kenyon
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Mr Le Roux
Braam Le Roux has lived among the Kalahari Bushmen for 23 years

A London-based organisation which accuses the Botswana government of ethnic cleansing against the Kalahari Bushmen has come under fierce criticism for allegedly distorting the true picture.

Survival International has led a global media campaign with headlines such as "Ethnic cleansing reaches final phase".

It has also used phrases like "the last chapter in the 200-year-old genocide of the Bushmen", and acts "tantamount to genocide" or "perilously close to genocide".

But now one of the largest Bushmen groups in Botswana, the Kuru Family of Organisations, claims that is untrue.

"There's no genocide taking place, there's no ethnic cleansing taking place," said Braam Le Roux, a coordinator of the group.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival said: "Ethnic cleansing, yes. Genocide, it's a question of looking at the term.

"We are very close to saying this is outright genocide, although the government has not, as yet, outright killed people."

Ancestral lands

The San have lived in the African desert for thousands of years
The Kuru Family of Organisations works with around 20,000 Bushmen.

It supports the rights of the Central Kalahari Bushmen to return to their ancestral lands, but does not support Survival International's tactics.

Survival International works with around 700 Bushmen, either evicted from, or facing eviction from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, their ancestral land for 20,000 years.

Stephen Corry's understanding of genocide is the forced removal of the Bushmen, which he believes will lead to their eventual destruction as a distinct people.

It is true that the United Nations definition of genocide is broad, and does not necessarily require killing.

But it is also worth recalling that in Darfur where 180,000 people have been killed and two million displaced, the UN says there is not enough evidence to say the government is responsible for genocide.

Resettlement towns

Many of the Bushmen forced out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve now live in the resettlement town of New Xade.

Jumanda is worried about exposure to diseases such as Aids
There, we met Jumanda Gakelebone.

He is a Bushmen activist and supporter of Survival International. "It's a genocide. It's a murder by the government," he said.

Jumanda went on to explain that by forcing his people out of the game reserve and into resettlement towns like New Xade, the government is exposing them to diseases such as Aids.

He said those who have refused to leave the game reserve are facing starvation because vital supplies have been cut off by the government. This is his concept of genocide.

Perhaps with such a profoundly different set of cultural references, he can be forgiven for misjudging the weight of the word and its association with Nazi Germany or Pol Pot's Cambodia.

Yet it is also the kind of imagery employed by his colleagues at Survival International.

'General fear'

Le Roux said other groups feel the same way about Survival International but are too scared to speak out.

Alice Mogwe
The very aggressive name-and-shame approach... is not one African governments react to positively
Alice Mogwe, Ditshwanelo
"We're afraid of them," he said, "I think there's a general fear amongst NGOs and everyone out here [about] Survival."

Whilst Survival International is clearly passionate about Bushmen's rights, its use of highly inflammatory language could be playing into the government's hands and removing any possibility of compromise.

Alice Mogwe, the head of Ditshwanelo, Botswana's only human rights organisation, said: "The very aggressive name-and-shame approach which is quite common in Europe is not one which African governments react to positively.

"And the government has reached a point where they are reacting to Survival, but unfortunately the [Bushmen] tend to be the casualties."

International concern

Defending Survival's work, Mr Corry said: "The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) who are in desperate need of help... have asked us repeatedly to help them over many years.

They do not believe in the government's goodwill
Stephen Corry, Survival International
"They do not believe in the government's goodwill.

"They say... the only thing that can help us is international concern. I think they are right."

Botswana government spokesman Sydney Pilane told the BBC: "We do not want the involvement of Survival International because it is harmful.

"In fact, believe me, they are harming the interests of the [Bushmen], the very people who they say they are fighting for.

"They are harming their interests more than they're harming anybody else's interests because they will not succeed in getting our diamonds or our tourism boycotted as they are trying to do."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 10 November, 2005 at 1102 GMT.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 14 November, 2005 at 2030 GMT.

Crossing Continents


Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help


Bushmen fight for homeland
02 May 05 |  Africa
Kalahari bushmen fight eviction
05 Jul 04 |  Africa
Country profile: Botswana
03 Nov 05 |  Country profiles
Have your say
09 Nov 05 |  Crossing Continents

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific