|Certificate of nomination|
So here once again is the story of the Bushman people and the way it led to tonight...
The Bushmen have been nomadic peoples – there are many different groups with a variety of languages - for hundreds of thousands of years. As other population groups crowded them, they moved into the arid regions of southern Africa and developed a very successful if spartan lifestyle. They would dig for water and suck it out of the ground through straws or use Tsama melons for fluid. Sharing was a survival strategy. They moved with the seasons, following game which they hunted using bows and poisoned arrows. The poisons make a story in themselves, ranging from snake venom, through extraordinary desert plants, to an extraction of the larva of a beetle which is so poisonous there is no known antidote. Their ancestors left amazing rock art.
The Bushmen have always lived in the Kalahari. Fences and private land ownership – which is alien to them – interfere with their nomadic behaviours, and rules concerning hunting force them near starvation. Their culture is not respected and is being destroyed by the change in environment and legal constraints with which they don’t agree. In order to keep the Kalahari for tourism and – according to some - for diamond mining, the Bushmen are being forced out of the Kalahari game reserve and into settlements little better than concentration camps on the verges of the land they once regarded as their own. Yes, there is some compensation, but this is soon frittered away leaving nothing. Financial investing is completely beyond their ken.
And here is how the Botswana government sees it:
The government has an obligation to provide appropriate infrastructure for all its citizens. This includes proper schools (Botswana has a policy that schools should be within walking distance from where people live), health care at least at a primary level, water and sanitation. Furthermore the Kalahari is remote and inaccessible, an ecological treasure that must be preserved. Discrimination on race is forbidden by the constitution; if the Bushmen live there, how are other population groups to be prevented from living and hunting there? And now the Bushmen hunt with guns rather than bows and arrows. Their nomadic behaviour has changed to informal settlements where water has to be supplied by road, rather than found in depressions or melons. Crudely put, the traditional culture is already dead; only the inconvenience remains. Thus a group of planned settlements set up in appropriate places with schools and services is the way to go. Appropriate compensation is paid to the people who have to move. They have a new and better life ahead.
In the wide gap between these two viewpoints is a variety of groups trying to negotiate a scenario which would bring the two sides closer together. Among these is Ditshwanelo, an amazing human rights organisation led by the equally amazing Alice Mogwe. (Ditshwanelo is a Setswana word meaning variously: obligations, merits, duties.) Nevertheless, with such extreme perspectives, and the muscle behind each side, it was almost inevitable that the matter would end in the Botswana High Court.
One of the three judges was the remarkable Unity Dow – first woman High Court judge in Botswana, member of the Kenyan Constitutional court, novelist. Broadly, the judges ruled in favour of the Bushmen. In the judgement, Dow said that the case was ‘ultimately about a people demanding dignity and respect. It is a people saying in essence: "Our way of life may be different, but it is worthy of respect. We may be changing and getting closer to your way of life, but give us a chance to decide what we want to carry with us into the future”.’
Michael - Edgar Night