Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September 2014, 13:07 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Botswana

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Botswana, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eacf4.html [accessed 30 September 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.

The efforts by Botswana's minorities for recognition of their rights continued in 2007. Despite being a multi-ethnic state, comprised of 45 tribes, Botswana's laws and constitution continue to discriminate in favour of those from the dominant Tswana-speaking group. Most of the laws of Botswana recognize and protect the rights of the Tswana-speaking groups with regards to ethnic identity (including language and culture), land and chieftaincy. However no such recognition or protection is given to the non-Tswana-speaking ethnic groups in Botswana. Indeed, following independence in 1966, the only languages allowed for public purposes or in teaching were Setswana and English.

A 2001 High Court ruling in a case brought by the Wayeyi tribe, found that the exclusion of the Wayeyi from the House of Chiefs – an influential body which advises parliament – was discriminatory and unjustified. However, despite the ruling, the government's action purporting to remedy this discrimination has been far from satisfactory. In 2005, the Botswana parliament passed a constitutional amendment, dealing with membership of the House of Chiefs. However, the campaign group Reteng concluded that this merely further entrenched the inequalities. It noted that when the present House of Chiefs was inaugurated on 1 February 2007, of the 45 tribes, 20 remained entirely unrepresented. In June 2007, the National Assembly proposed the Bogosi bill, which if enacted, would repeal the Chieftaincy Act. However, campaigners say the proposals fall far short of what is required and still preserve the disproportionate influence of the Tswana tribes in the House of Chiefs.

Reteng and Minority Rights Group International (MRG) have submitted a case, based on the Wayeyi ruling, to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, located in the Gambia, alleging violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. These include violations of the right to participate freely in government (Article 13), the right to freely take part in the cultural life of a community (Article 17) and the right to equality (Article 19).

The treatment of the San hunter-gatherers in Botswana continued to raise concerns in 2007. The San scored a historic victory at the end of 2006, when the High Court in Botswana ruled that forcible evictions from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002 were illegal and unconstitutional, and that the ban on hunting was illegal. However, it became evident in 2007 that the Botswana government was intent on only allowing the narrowest interpretation of this ruling. It insists that the court's judgment only applied to those listed on the legal case papers, and there have been repeated arrests of San who have tried to hunt in the Reserve.

The court case followed progressive dispossession of the San of land which they have inhabited for thousands of years. The forces of modernization, economic imperatives (diamonds were discovered in the territory) and tourism have all been cited as reasons for the evictions of the San. Their subsequent existence in government resettlement camps, without access to the expanses of the Kalahari, has sounded the death-knell for their unique hunter-gatherer way of life.

Survival International reported in December 2007 that up to 150 people had managed to resettle in the park despite the obstacles. But it is estimated that up to 1,000 more would like to go back. The non-governmental organization (NGO) said lack of adequate water supplies, lack of access to transport back to the reserve and undue pressure from government officials were preventing more people from returning (see also Namibia).

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