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Assessment for San Bushmen in Botswana

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for San Bushmen in Botswana, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a5ec.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Botswana Facts
Area:    600,370 sq. km.
Capital:    Gaborone
Total Population:    1,590,000 (source: unknown, 2000, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Based on factors identified as encouraging or inhibiting rebellion, the San in Botswana seem to have a moderate risk thereof. Recent government repression has given them a reason for mobilization, and they possess factors that help mobilization including a group identity, territorial concentration, and organizational representation. Furthermore, Botswana does not seem interested in reform and there has been serious armed conflict in neighboring Angola that might spillover. Recent governmental action may further incite the aggression of the San people. In 2002, the government commenced a forced resettlement program in which they forcibly removed the San from their land located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This site was originally reserved for the San people in order to protect their hunting and gathering way of life. However, in 2003, they remain in various resettled areas and must rely on governmental aid for subsistence. However, three factors will mitigate rebellious impulses. First, the regime in Botswana is democratic and stable, providing less violent pathways to pursue change. Second, there is international pressure for reform from Survival International and Great Britain. Third, there has been little past protest to build upon. There is a higher likelihood of increased protest. The San encounter significant political and cultural restrictions as well as recent repression that might act as catalysts for protest. In addition, San in Botswana are part of a greater network of San in Southern Africa that would provide resources and support for any protest that takes place.

Analytic Summary

The people collectively known as the San, Bushmen or Basarwa are some of the last nomadic hunter-gatherers on earth. They are very distinct from the majority Tswana ethnic group (ETHDIFXX = 8). San speak a variety of Khosian click languages (LANG = 2) and have a distinctive appearance (RACE = 1). In addition, they have their own customs (CUSTOM = 1) and animist beliefs (BELIEF = 3).

The San in Botswana are concentrated in the Kalahari Desert where they have moved to avoid the encroachment of other groups (GROUPCON = 3; CULDIFX6 = 2). Until the start of the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, the San occupied most of Southern Africa to the southern part of the Sahara (TRADITN = 1). Then as technological innovations associated with agriculture spread, so did the Bantu blacks from the east and the Nilo-Saharan blacks from the Sahara. Both groups migrated south, and along with whites from Europe, encroached on San land. As a result, San moved further into the Kalahari Desert to maintain their way of life. Since 1997, the government has had a campaign to resettle them from their traditional homelands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to 70 camps with minimal compensation and failed promises of improved living conditions (DMRES00-03 = 3). Governmental pressures to move the group were increased in 2002, the year in which they were forcibly resettled. In January 2002, the government cut off the water supply to the area and reduced all services as well as the right to hunt, an essential trade to the San.

The San are disadvantaged from past discrimination (ATRISK2 = 1) as well as current discrimination (ATRISK1 = 1). Politically, the San encounter social exclusion (POLDIS03 = 3). In fact, while in the past intermarriage did occur, it is now socially taboo to intermarry with the San and they have thus been pushed to the margins of society. Most importantly, traditional chiefs are often denied recognition thus limiting their power and authority compared to other groups. In addition, the San face de facto restrictions on their place of residence and have limited access to the civil service, education and higher office. Furthermore, they have problems with the judicial system in terms of higher arrest rates, harsher sentences, and the inability to properly defend themselves because of language barriers. However, this has shown marked improvement recently. In 1995 two San men were sentenced to death for the murder of another man; however, this ruling was overturned by the High Court in 1999 because it was determined that the San could not speak the language well enough to have known their charge nor to understand the confession they signed. They are currently retrying the two. The San have also been successful in bringing a case against the state in 2002 for their forced resettlement from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). However, that same year they lost on a mere technicality. The High Court stepped in and has granted the San the ability to bring the case back to Court, which happened in 2003. The San do not encounter many cultural restrictions, although teachers at the camps do not speak the San language. This is a general problem throughout Botswana.

San also face economic social exclusion (ECDIS03 = 3). Poverty and unemployment plague the group. More than 50% of San live below the poverty line. Those who attempted to remain on their traditional land risked resettlement and many were denied land rights because of the prospect of resettlement. Furthermore, the government had imposed a quota restriction on what they could hunt, and San are often arrested and harassed as "poachers." Basically, the government has limited what they can get from the land, and it is not enough to sustain life and thus the government sometimes had to give out food rations. The resettlement areas are not large enough to sustain hunter-gatherer populations of the current size and are in poor conditions. In general, the socio-economic status of those who have been resettled has declined since resettlement (DEMSTR99 = 4). Alcoholism is rife, and the camps lack access to basic sanitation, health care and even water.

Based on the above discrimination, the San in Botswana have several grievances. First and foremost, they want access to their traditional lands. They also want recognition for their tribes and leaders as an important avenue to attaining more voice and power in government. They would also like their culture and language to be protected and promoted. In general, the San are looking for greater political input and for greater economic opportunity.

Since 1989, the San have begun to organize on their own behalf. They are aided by a sense of group identity, albeit a weak one (COHESX9 = 4) and a lack of internal divisions (INTRACON2 = 0). Several umbrella political organizations (GOJPA00 = 1) promote San interests including the Working Group of Indigenous People in South Africa—Botswana Chapter, the First People of the Kalahari, and the Kuru Development Trust. The percentage of San who actually support these organizations is unknown. These efforts have mostly taken the form of education and lobbying (PROT89-00 = 2, PROT01&03 = 0, PROT02 = 1). The protest in 2002 arose after water was shut off to forcibly remove the San from CKGR. The protest consisted of verbal opposition on the part of the San and various protests in the years 2001-2003 in London via Survival International. The San have also received international help from Survival International. It has advocated an international campaign on the San's behalf. Britain has also pressured the government for reform.

The current relationship between the San and majority Twsana is cordial. There were no reports of violent conflicts between the two between 1999 and 2003 (INTERCON99-03 = 0). The relationship between the San and Botswana's government is more strained. There were several reports of government repression in 1999 and 2000 and 2002 surrounding the resettlement program. Besides the initial resettlement, there are problems with restrictions on movements from the camps (even though freedom of movement is guaranteed by law). Furthermore, those remaining in the Central Kalahari Game Preserve risk arrest and torture as an intimidation tactic if caught "poaching." The situation is complicated by the possibility of diamond reserves in the Kalahari. The discovery sets up a potential conflict between the government's economic development policies and the San's claim to their homeland. While it was alleged that the government was seeking to exploit diamond minds in the CKGR, that idea has been abandoned for one of tourism. The government is currently exploring ways of bringing tourism to the reserve in order to generate more revenue.

References

Amnesty International, 1993, Amnesty International Report 1993.

Lexis/Nexis, various news sources including BBC, CNN, Reuter, Inter Press Service, 1980-2003.

Hitchcock, Robert K. 1994?. Grassroots Organizing Among Kalahari Bushmen. Paper sent by the author to Anne Pitsch.

Hitchcock, Robert K. 1985, Political Development Among the Basarwa of Botswana, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 9(3).

Hitchcock, Robert K. 1982?, Development Planning, Government Policy, and the Future of the Basarwa in Botswana.

Stephen, David. 1982, The San of the Kalahari, Minority Rights Group Report No. 56.

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks. "Basarwa Get Another Chance At Court Challenge." Africa News. 24 Jan. 2003.

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