The government’s denial that mining activities were behind the controversial relocation of BaSarwa from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) continues to haunt the country.
It has been more than a decade since the government evicted BaSarwa from the reserve but the government has always denied any connection between mining there and the evictions. The issue became the subject of intense debate recently when the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Kabo Morwaeng, appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Switzerland.
It emerged from some of the questions that UN experts had filed with the government prior to Morwaeng and his delegation appearing before the Committee that they have grave doubts about the government’s plans in the CKGR and the way BaSarwa continue to be treated. The Geneva-based Committee is particularly critical of what they consider to be the government’s failure to comply with a 2006 High Court judgement. The High Court decision in question ordered the government to allow BaSarwa to return to the CKGR.
The UN was also not impressed by the government’s response that BaSarwa were relocated in 2002 because their lifestyle was incompatible with conservation. Hence, at the recent appearance by Morwaeng before the Committee, some UN human rights experts sought to know if the reasons behind government’s decision to relocate BaSarwa were to dispossess them of their land and pave way for mineral activities.
Replying to some of the UN Committee’s concerns, Botswana stated in a report that: “Mining activities do take place alongside the occupation of the San in the CKGR. The San have not been relocated to pave way for mining. The reason for the relocation (of) the San was related to their incompatible agricultural land usage which they had adopted over a period of time, thus changing from their hunter-gatherer way of life which was compatible with the original land use.”
The government argued that the traditional settlements BaSarwa at Molapo, Metsiamanong, Gope, Mothomelo and Gugamma remain inhabited within the CKGR. “Therefore, Botswana can categorically state that there is no dispossession of the lands whatsoever,” the government insisted.
It added that through Ghanzi District Council, it continues to provide social services and social safety nets to these settlements. The government has drilled and equipped boreholes in Molapo and Mothomelo. By 20 September 2019, government said, it had made 38 trips to provide water, food rations and social safety nets to the settlements.
“With regard to measures adopted to guarantee the rights of indigenous groups, in particular the BaSarwa, to their traditional land, the Acquisition of Property Act (Cap 32:01), read together with Sections 3, 8 and 9 of the Constitution, guarantees the privacy and the protection of a person’s home and other property,” it noted. “It also prohibits deprivation of property without compensation.”
Therefore, where any Motswana, including BaSarwa, holds title to land, such title is guaranteed protection of the law and cannot be divested without due process of the law. Institutions such as land tribunals, land boards, and courts have been established to govern land allocations and adjudicate over land claim disputes, the government said.
“Measures adopted to guarantee BaSarwa of the natural resources in their communities include the development of a Community Based Resource Management Policy by Government whose objective is to ensure that communities, including BaSarwa, benefit from the natural resources in their localities,” said the government.
Regarding reports indicating that nine BaSarwa were shot at by an aerial anti-poaching unit while hunting antelope in August 2016, and that they were arrested, stripped naked and beaten while in detention, Botswana confirmed the arrest of people in the CKGR for unlawfully killing three gemsbok and two elands. “The detainees were transported to Ghanzi State Prison awaiting further investigations,” it said. “Investigations were conducted in relation to allegations that they were shot at, stripped naked and beaten whilst in detention and subsequently a disciplinary process was conducted against the relevant officers.”
It added that of the four officers charged, three were acquitted and discharged and one convicted of unlawful use of unnecessary force and fined P500 (around USD50). “Although the evidence gathered did not rule out the allegations of assault, there was nothing suggesting that they had been shot at by the officers,” the government argued.
Regarding implementation of the High Court in Roy Sesana v. the Attorney General, the government insisted that it has complied with the court decision in that the affected people have been allowed to return to the CKGR and currently live there. “People affected by the High Court case are not required to produce permits to enter the CKGR,” it said. “Permits are required from any other Motswana, including the San who were not affected by the judgment.”
In addition, the government said it has taken note of the preliminary recommendations about measures to be taken with regard to the CKGR, namely the statement made by the government detailing its position as to who may enter the CKGR and conditions of entry, that measures be taken to consult with communities, and facilitation of access to water in the CKGR.
The government said it has restored services for those residing within the CKGR like water, mobile health services, destitute food rations, transporting children to schools outside the CKGR and returning them to their parents during school holidays, and transporting parents to get cash allowances and to buy essentials. “This is despite the Court’s decision that government was not obliged to restore services to the settlements inside the Reserve,” the report said.