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Botswana: Court ruling in favor of Bushmen's right to live traditional lifestyle

Courts side with Bushmen of Botswana.
Good to hear a positive story in these troubled times. The Bushmen deserve to live their traditional lifestyle.

Kalahari Bushmen win right to return home

By David Blair in Lobatse

An ancient way of life was saved from oblivion today when Botswana's High Court allowed the San Bushmen to return to the Kalahari, quashing an official campaign to drive them from the desert.

Members of Bushman community celebrate outside the court in Lobatse, Botswana
Members of the Bushmen community celebrate outside the court in Lobatse

A packed courtroom heard a scathing judgment, finding that Botswana's government had tried to "starve" the Bushmen into submission by refusing both food rations and hunting licences.

Using this and other means, the authorities evicted some 1,600 hunter-gatherers from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve between 1997 and last year.

This desolate expanse of desert, covering 20,000 square miles, was the Bushmen's last stronghold.

The removals, which the government promised would bring progress and development, left only a few dozen inhabiting an area their ancestors had roamed for millennia.

All the rest were left in "resettlement areas" on the Kalahari's fringe.

But 240 Bushmen took Botswana's government to court, seeking the right to return to their desert homes.

They also wanted the authorities to let them hunt and restore the basic services once provided at their settlements.

On every point save for the return of government services, three judges in the town of Lobatse ruled in favour of the Bushmen by two to one.

Gordon Bennett, the Bushmen's British barrister from New Square Chambers in London, hailed a "marvellous victory" and said his "vindicated" clients now enjoyed a "constitutional right" to return to their homes.

Delighted Bushmen, some wearing antelope horns, emerged from the courtroom.

Roy Sesana, their unofficial leader, sported both a pair of horns and a furry jacket made from the hide of a steenbok antelope.

"In the desert we lived in the traditional way without being disturbed by anyone," said Keodiretse Kelailwe, an 18-year-old Bushman who plans to return home.

"We were hunting, gathering wild berries and using our herbs for medicine."

Almost five years ago, Mr Kelailwe left the Bushman settlement of Mothomelo when armed police arrived.

"They said to us 'take everything because you are leaving now. You must go. If you don't go, you will be killed'."

The inhabitants of this tiny cluster of grass huts boarded a lorry and left the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Mr Kelailwe vowed to return to the place where his mother lies buried.

"There are many things I want to see when I go back there. I want to be in a place where there are wild animals again."