Court hears God gave Bushmen their land

A San Bushman who defied a state order to move out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve told the Botswana High Court on Tuesday that the land had been given to him by God.

The court is hearing a case brought by 243 San Bushmen challenging their relocation from the game reserve, one of the world’s largest sanctuaries and an area that has been their home for about 20 000 years.

“I don’t need any piece of paper to show that land was given to me by God,” Amolang Segwetsane testified in court. “It belongs to my forefathers and all my children who were born there.”

Segwetsane, who has been living in the game reserve for 40 years, was testifying for the second day at the hearings held in a community hall in Ghanzi, 700km north-west of Gaborone.

The San took the government to court in April 2002, seeking an order declaring it illegal to cut off services to the Kalahari reserve, but the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Last month, the Bushmen won the right to have their claim heard again before the Botswana High Court in what is widely seen as a test case for the rights of indigenous people in Southern Africa.

The Botswana government claims that there are now only 17 Bushmen living in the reserve but rights groups say 200 have gone back in defiance of Gaborone’s campaign to resettle them outside the area.

State attorney Sidney Pilane told the court that Segwetsane is an “impostor” and that he plans to call Segwetsane’s mother and father to the stand to prove that he was not born in the reserve.

Lawyers representing the Bushmen are to wrap up their case this week, allowing attorneys acting on behalf of President Festus Mogae’s government to present their arguments when hearings resume next month.

During testimony on Monday, Segwetsane testified that the Botswana government had in 2002 emptied a water tank that was the main supply for the Bushmen in the reserve.

“That resulted in residents having to rely on desert melons as their source of water while I had to run around looking for other water sources,” Segwetsane said.

The Botswana government maintains that the San Bushmen were relocated outside the reserve because supplying services to the traditionally hunter-gatherer tribes had become too expensive.

Once numbering millions, there are roughly 100 000 San left in Southern Africa with almost half of those—48 000—in Botswana.

Others are spread across Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to rights groups.—Sapa-AFP


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