Burb Rocking
Sunday, January 21, 2007
  San Bushmen take the long way home
What do you do with the oldest people in the world? Who are learning new ways to survive in changing circumstances, proving willing to adapt and sustain themselves however they can? But who are unwilling to be moved off ancestral lands they have occupied for tens of thousands of years?

For an answer you can go back as far as 1984 to John Marshall's Death Blow to the Bushmen (Cultural Survival). The plan for forcible removal did not begin in Botswana, but in Namibia next door. The survival of the San Bushmen (who go by many names, among them "Ju/wasi" - link) was already made of thin cloth even then. Remove any of the strands and the thing falls apart. As Marshall wrote over twenty years ago:

The people in the [Ju/wasi] communities cannot survive by cattle husbandry, gardening, or hunting or gathering alone, or on cash - even with high army salaries. Their survival - like almost everyone in Namibia - depends on a mixed economy in which subsistence agriculture is combined with wage work. Cattle are the core of the subsistence which the people in the communities have developed to replace hunting and gathering and reduce their near complete and debilitating dependence on cash and welfare.

At the end of the article are portions of speeches by Kxao Demi and /Xaesce G/=oma (the strange usages of script are a hallmark of the click languages of the San). Living by their own choices, these people are honorable and proud. Consigned by the choices of others to camps they rightly term "places of death," they are demeaned and destroyed. As the Ju/wasi farmer says, they cannot survive deprived of "water we can reach with our hands, reach with our shovels - our water, in truth." They wish to stay, as one leader says, "where God himself made the water."

Now the same process begun in Namibia a quarter-century ago rolls inexorably forward in Botswana. Though not without a fight. For an update, the Associated Press turns to our reliable reporter in the field, Sello Motseta:

Botswana Bushmen fear returning to Kalahari reserve despite winning landmark court order (International Herald Tribune)

January 15, 2007

. . . [The Botswana High Court] ruled that the Bushmen have the right to hunt and gather in the reserve, and should not have to apply for permits to enter.

The government has said that only the 189 people who filed the lawsuit would be given automatic right of return with their children — short of the 2,000 the Basarwa say want to go home.

Along with the restrictions on domestic animals and water, they will also not be allowed to build permanent structures. Hunters will have to apply for special permits.

The government shut the main well in 2002 and water resources are scarce.

It's as if the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled Hopi tribespeople could make their homes in the Grand Canyon, and the U.S. government said any that took the opportunity would have to live there as their ancestors had a millennium ago...

The article also mentions that 23 tribesmen, who tried to return in 2005, were prevented from re-entering the Central Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Game Reserve by a hail of rubber bullets. This, along with their experience a week ago of being chased off by the government's officers - not to mention the process by which they were originally expelled - certainly explains the fear.

According to Aaron Glantz, that fear has been overcome.

Botswana's Bushmen Return to Native Land by Aaron Glantz (OneWorld)

Jan. 17, 2007

Tribal Bushmen began returning to their ancestral lands inside Botswana's largest game reserve this weekend, despite what their supporters describe as a heavy police presence and attempts to persuade them to stay in relocation camps.

"We're very much hoping that doesn't tip over into an intimidating situation," said Miriam Ross of the London-based rights group Survival International, which has supported the local tribesmen in their efforts to regain access to their land...

[Continued in the post above this one...]
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