Botswana Travel Guide
Botswana Travel Guide
People and culture
The San
Future issues

Botswana Travel Guide

Future issues

As commented above, foragers throughout the world are perceived to have less valid claims on lands than the farmers, who usually occupy more clearly demarcated areas of land.

Firstly, as a matter of policy, Botswana doesn't allow any of its policies to favour one ethnic group or another. This is generally held to be a very sensible policy, framed to avoid creating ethnic divisions and strife. However, having such a disadvantaged position, it's much more difficult for the San to access their rights than most other groups.

Secondly, the San are not recognised within the power structure accorded to the various chiefs of Botswana's other tribal groups. There's no San representation in the House of Chiefs (Botswana's second legislative chamber), and no traditional land rights accorded to them. This puts them at a major political disadvantage.

Thirdly, under Botswana law hunting and gathering isn't recognised as a formal category of land use – so in local disputes the needs of the San are frequently subjugated to those of Botswana's farmers.

The resulting disenfranchisement has led many of the San into situations of extreme poverty. Alcoholism is a problem amongst some San populations. Today the government provides schools in villages where the supply of water and drought relief food encourages the people to stay. But with no recent farming tradition, self-sufficiency is difficult. Others work on cattle farms or game farms and reserves.

Survival And The 'Bushmen' Of The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The following text has been contributed by Survival International.

We know this land belonged to our great grandparents. But now, just because we are Bushmen, our land is being taken from us.
Bushman woman, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Survival International is a worldwide organisation supporting tribal peoples. It stands for their right to decide their own future and helps them protect their lives, lands and human rights.

Today there are more than 150 million tribal people worldwide, including at least 70 uncontacted tribes. Almost all are persecuted relentlessly – they are flooded by dams, wiped out by disease, driven from their homes by logging and mining, and evicted by settlers. However, with the support of people outside, these threats can be averted and tribal peoples can live healthy and secure lives: there is nothing inevitable about their demise.

Survival has been supporting the Gana and Gwi 'Bushmen' of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (who are the indigenous people of this region) for over 15 years. For all this time the Botswana government has expressed its desire to relocate the Gana and Gwi, together with their neighbours the Bakgalagadi, out of the reserve, in spite of the fact that the reserve was actually created to provide a home for the Bushmen, and the wildlife they hunt. The Bushmen's life in the reserve was gradually made impossible, especially by heavily restricting the hunting on which the Bushmen depend for their food.

In two big operations, in 1997 and 2002, the authorities trucked out virtually all those Bushmen who had not previously succumbed to a combination of inducement and pressure. The government also destroyed the Bushmen's water supplies and borehole. Some observers believe that behind the evictions lurk the prospect of huge riches from the diamond deposits known to be in the reserve (Botswana's economy largely depends on diamonds). The government has now relocated these people to bleak 'resettlement' camps where they live on government handouts and are reduced to boredom, alcoholism and despair; many are desperately struggling to return to their homes in the reserve.

Until they were evicted from their land, the Gana and Gwi lived self-sufficient lives. Of the entire 'Bushmen' population, they are virtually unique in having maintained hunting as central to their way of life. In modern-day Botswana, however, this lifestyle is widely seen as 'primitive' and an embarrassment to a 'developing' country. The president, for example, has said, 'How can you have a Stone Age creature continue to exist in the age of computers? If the Bushmen want to survive, they must change or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish.'

Survival is the only international organisation supporting tribal peoples worldwide which does not accept funding from any national government. For more information about our campaign with the Gana and Gwi, contact: Survival International, tel: + 44 (0) 207 687 8700; web:

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

This is one of the most contentious issues facing Botswana today – with much rhetoric from all quarters.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) was proclaimed in 1961 in the last days of the British Protectorate with the intention of placating international concern over the well being of the San, by safeguarding it for the San hunter-gatherers who were living there. Although for ease of administration it was designated as a game reserve, the needs of its people was a prime motivating factor in its declaration.

In the early 1960s the population here was estimated at around 5,000 people; by the 1996 it had reduced to an estimated 1,482. The largest settlement, a small village called Xade, had a borehole which supplied water, and a few basic buildings. As early as 1986 a government white paper spelled out that the policy was for the residents of the CKGR to be relocated outside the reserve. The story since then has been one of the government using carrots and sticks to attain this aim.

Supporters of the San's right to remain have alleged that since the mid-1990s the government and its servants, including the park's game scouts, have been applying more and more pressure on the local people, forcing them to resettle to new locations outside the reserve. The best known of these is named, with Orwellian flair, New Xade. They allege that San individuals have been beaten and otherwise coerced into moving, and that even the water supply has been stopped for those who stay.

In return, the government denies that they have ever used force. They say that water and other services have been withdrawn from Xade for reasons of practicality and cost, and that any relocations have been voluntary.

In conclusion it seems likely that the government has, at best, been a little 'over-zealous' in its resettlement policy, and at worst it may have committed serious injustices to the people in the reserve. For me, the most pertinent question is 'Why bother?' as the official line that it's to protect the game seems implausible given all the bad press that this generates for them throughout the world.

There are two obvious theories. One recognises that the government is putting an increasing emphasis on tourism, and is concerned that the presence of the San will detract from the tourist's experience. A second suggests that the government wants to clear the way for the possibility of exploiting mineral claims in the area – diamond prospectors have long been looking for another find like Orapa beneath the Kalahari.

Relocation Of Basarwa From The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The following is taken from a speech given by President Mogae on November 7 2002, in which he sought to refute a connection between diamond exploration in the CKGR and the relocation of the Basarwa. For the complete text of the speech, see

In view of the extended campaign of deception which has been waged by Survival International, it is necessary for me to set the record absolutely straight on a number of matters of fact which, fortunately, are easily verifiable by those, including Survival International, who care to do so. These facts are:

• Despite exploration over many years, beginning in the mid-1960s, no commercially mineable mineral deposit has been found inside the CKGR. There is neither any actual mining nor any plan for future mining inside the reserve.
• A diamond deposit was discovered at Gope, inside the CKGR, in 1980. After extensive testing, including the sinking of a trial shaft which still exists, it has been determined that the deposit cannot be economically mined. The area remains the subject of a retention licence, but all activity has ceased and there is no plan to resume.
• The activity associated with past mineral prospecting, including the sinking of a borehole at the location, attracted a small number of Basarwa to abandon a more nomadic lifestyle and adopt a settled existence in the area. The borehole has subsequently been disconnected because prospecting activity in the area has ceased. This was criticised by Survival International on the absurd notion that the government was terminating the 'traditional' water supply of the Basarwa.
• The programme of assisted relocation of Basarwa from areas of the CKGR, where it is virtually impossible to provide any kind of basic human infrastructure, began in 1997 after having been the subject of consultations since 1985. It was in no way related to any plan, real or fictitious, to commence diamond mining in the CKGR.
• The great majority of the Basarwa communities are anxious to seize the opportunity for an improvement in the quality of their lives and the lives of their children. Even some of those who are apparently resisting such opportunities have found the means to advance the lives and the future prospects of their own families, by tapping into the fruits of economic development which are already available to them outside the CKGR.

The relocation exercise, which is accepted as being in the best interests of the majority of the Basarwa and of the nation as a whole, has been carried out in the most sensitive and constructive manner possible. The government has devoted significant resources to assist the Basarwa in their new settlements. Funds have been allocated for infrastructural developments, such as schools, health posts, water reticulation and other social amenities. Apart from land for residential and commercial purposes, people have been given cattle and goats, and more than P30 million (US$5 million) has been expended on projects to improve the new settlements. In a world where governments stand accused of many terrible crimes, it does seem strange that the Botswana Government should have to defend itself against the charge of improving the lives of its citizens.

Hope for the future?

Perhaps one of the few rays of hope is that as a consequence of the prevailing image of the San, visitors really are willing to pay to see something of their 'traditional culture'. Hence the springing up of various traditional villages and tourism projects in both Botswana and neighbouring Namibia.

These vary from really interesting, genuine insights into the people and their skills, to little more than curiosity shows put on for the benefit of visitors.

I'd probably argue that virtually all are worthwhile for the San – provided that they bring a substantial income into the community involved, and do so without actively harming the people's self-esteem. Meanwhile from experience of the best, I know they can be absolutely fascinating personal interactions for the visitor, as well as acting to reinforce the community's own self-esteem and value in their own skills, whilst bringing much-needed money into the community.

What's become very, very clear is that to make such a tourist-community interaction really successful for both parties needs the permanent commitment of someone on the ground who has been working with the community for a long period – and understands both the community, and the tourists. Without this, such projects invariably fail.

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