Kalahari arrests ‘illegal’ and ‘harassment’, claims NGO Survival

Bushmen accused of hunting in restricted area despite landmark case that gave them access to their traditional hunting and foraging lands

Sunday 23 August 2020 15:04
The Kalahari desert stretches through Botswana and Namibia
The Kalahari desert stretches through Botswana and Namibia

By Thobo Motlhoka for The Sunday Standard in Botswana

Claims of human rights violations against Basarwa (Bushmen) by a United Kingdom based non-governmental organisation are being resurrected in the third presidency of Botswana.

Former President Festus Mogae tried to fend them off, his successor Ian Khama, with his presumed conservation credentials, somehow survived the fury from Survival International (SI) but it remains to be seen if the incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi can put up a spirited fight against the NGO.

SI’s long-time director Stephen Corry has cautioned Masisi to desist from arresting Basarwa (Bushmen) over their nostalgic activities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) – an area they regard as ancestral land.

In a letter penned by Corry addressed to Masisi, the organisation reminds the government about the 2006 Roy Sesana vs The Attorney General landmark High Court ruling that upheld the Basarwa’s right to hunt in the CKGR.

Corry’s warning follows the arrest of five men on charges of unlawful possession of government trophies in May, 2020 contrary to the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act.

“The accused persons Tshoganetso Sesana, Monyaku Modumedi, Lefifi Roy, Tsharae Kelebatse and another one before court acting together and in concert on or about 7th day of May 2020 at or near New Xade in the Ghanzi Administrative District of the Republic of Botswana, being persons not authorised, licenced or exempted under the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act unlawfully possessed game meat which is a government trophy,” the particulars of offense reads.

In their response to the arrests Survival International said they hoped the arrests and charges have been made by individual game scouts and court martials who may be unaware of the 2006 High Court ruling.

“In March, four Bushmen from Gope community in CKGR were detained for hunting and subsequently released without charge. In May, four Bushmen from Molapo community were arrested and remanded in custody in Ghanzi. They have now been charged with ‘unlawful possession of a government trophy’ and are due in court in August. We understand that several Bushmen from Xere have also been harassed recently for hunting in the CKGR,” Corry’s letter listed several incidents of ‘harassment’ against Basarwa. He described the reports as disturbing.

The organisation also alluded to reports that Basarwa have been stopped from planting melons and other foods in the CKGR saying they hope that it is not government policy to deny Basarwa the opportunity.

Corry praised the lifting of the hunting ban by the Botswana government and “support for communities which find themselves in conflict with wildlife,” adding “We sincerely hope that you will also ensure that the CKGR Bushman communities’ right to hunt is upheld since their livelihood relies to a large extent on hunting for the pot for their families.”

Roy Sesana took the government to court following the 2002 decision to terminate water, food and health services to Basarwa residing in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The service cuts were followed by relocations to adjacent areas. Access to the reserve was restricted for those who relocated, resulting in some of the Kalahari Bushmen no longer being able to enter the land they had occupied or to pursue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

The Court held that the refusal to allow Basarwa access into the CKGR was unlawful. The Court stated that the simultaneous stoppage of the supply of food rations and the issuing of Special Game Licenses (SGLs) was tantamount to condemning the remaining residents of the CKGR to death by starvation, resulting in a violation of the right to life set out in Section 4(1) of the Botswana Constitution.

The Court also found that the Government's refusal to allow the Basarwa to enter the CKGR unless they are issued with permits was unlawful and unconstitutional. The High Court held that, as Basarwa were lawfully in the CKGR, it followed that the legislative provision that forbade entry into the reserve did not apply to permanent residents of the CKGR.

It also followed that refusal to allow the Applicants entry into the CKGR without permit was both unlawful and unconstitutional because it violated their right of freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 14(1) of the Constitution.

This article is reproduced here as part of the Giants Club African Conservation Journalism Fellowships, a programme of the charity Space for Giants and supported by the majority shareholder of ESI Media, which includes independent.co.uk. It aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.

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