Bushmen start to return to ancestral lands

After court's historic ruling, first hunters are back in the Kalahari. Katy Guest reports
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A group of Kalahari Bushmen, one of the oldest tribal societies in the world, have returned to their ancestral hunting grounds after defeating international diamond mining companies and the government of Botswana in an historic court decision.

Forty Bushmen managed to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in the arid heart of southern Africa, despite a heavy police presence and attempts to persuade them to stay in relocation camps. "Today is the same day for us as Nelson Mandela when he won South Africa," said Roy Sesana, as he stepped back on to the land where his forefathers have lived for 20,000 years.

The Gana and Gwi Bushmen had managed to preserve their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. But when diamonds were discovered at a community called Gope in the 1980s, De Beers bought the right to mine there. Gradually, the Bushmen were forced off their land to live in relocation camps. Alcoholism and HIV/Aids became rife.

While the head of De Beers in Botswana, Sheila Khama, told The Independent on Sunday that "we are certain that our diamond mining activities were nothing to do with the removal of these people from the Kalahari", the company's presence attracted criticism from several high-profile supporters of the Bushmen.

The Somalia-born supermodel Iman stood down as the face of De Beers, explaining: "It was clear the Bushmen were being destroyed." Tomorrow sees the UK release of the film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, to whom the Bushmen appealed for support last September. "Your film shows how badly diamonds hurt," Roy Sesana told him in an open letter.

Last month, the Bushmen won a three-year court case when the High Court declared their eviction from their land "unlawful and unconstitutional". The first group of 40 Bushmen is preparing the way for others to leave the relocation camps and return to their traditional way of life.

Jumanda Gakelebone, one of the group, said: "We are happy to see this after a long time. We are going back home to our ancestral land, and our ancestors will be happy."