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BOTSWANA'S HOMELESS SAN TURN TO THE INTERNET

A new website, Iwant2gohome.org, has been launched by First People of the Kalahari, an NGO. Its aim is to draw attention to Botswana's San/Basarwa people's struggle to regain entry to their ancestral home. "[The website] is the way we want to campaign our cause globally," said a spokesperson for the NGO.

"I want to go back to my motherland where I grew up. I want to be like other Batswana who stay in their own land," writes Xuduama, a Bushman of Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

Xuduama's message is one of hundreds featured on the new website Iwant2gohome.org, set up this week by First People of the Kalahari (FPK), an NGO. Its aim is to draw attention to Botswana's San/Basarwa people's struggle to regain entry to their ancestral home.

"[The website] is the way we want to campaign our cause globally," said Jumanda Gakelebone, a spokesperson for FPK, who is among the many featured on the site. "We want to show the world our people, where they are and what their names are."

The Basarwa are hunter-gatherers, believed to be among the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. They have a turbulent history of conflict with Botswana's government, which by 1997, after 12 years of preparation, started evicting them from their lands. The region spans an area of about 52 000 square kilometres, according to Gakelebone.

Some vacated the area voluntarily, but most were forcibly removed, according to Survival International, a public-funded organisation that works globally for the rights of tribal people.

The Basarwa are "among the most persecuted [Bushmen]", Survival International says on its website, suffering "torture, drastic restrictions in their hunting rights, and routine harassment" from the government, tactics that eventually forced them out of the area.

The government's official website on the Basarwa states that a decision was made to remove them from the area because a "conflict of land use had developed between wildlife conservation and emerging human settlements inside the game reserve".

Because the Basarwa were "no longer either able or willing to live by what had been considered their traditional means", the website states, "these lifestyle shifts were already having an adverse impact on the environment".

Since 2004, some of the Basarwa have been engaged in a legal battle with the state, at Botswana's High Court, the final arguments of which were heard on Friday. "We have constitutional rights to our land," Gakelebone told the Mail & Guardian Online.

"The right of the Basarwa to continue to occupy the land in the CKGR is now protected by several provisions of the Constitution of Botswana," Survival International states on its website. "In particular, section 14 gives the Basarwa a right to reside in the CKGR that the government of the day cannot take from them."

Gakelebone said there are currently more than 400 people featured on the FPK site, but including children, there are about 1 000 who wish to return home.

"We did have good arguments [in the court case] and we are expecting a 50/50 chance of winning," he said regarding the judgement that will be made by December this year. "If we lose, we will still carry on fighting until we get our land rights, but if there is justice, we will win." –

Africast

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