Botswana’s Bushmen want their share of tourism dollars

San Bushmen living in the new settlement of New Xade outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) say they feel cut off from their homeland and from the tourism dollars flowing to one of Botswana’s top destinations.

About 2 000 Bushmen have resettled in New Xade, set up in 1997 west of the reserve, living in wooden huts and small houses. They are serviced with water and a school and big hospital have been built.

“People have no jobs,” says Tshixo, a 38-year-old resident of the settlement.

Some of the Bushmen claim they were relocated outside of the CKGR as part of a government campaign to develop the sanctuary’s tourism potential.

“The government is not transparent about the future of the CKGR. We do not know what is going to happen. They simply do not want us to benefit from it,” says Salomon Phetolo (33), an activist with the rights group First People of the Kalahari.

“If we were given a chance, we would work with the tourists. Some of us could be trained as guides,” he said.

About 240 Bushmen who were relocated to New Xade in 2002 are waging a land-claim battle in the Botswana high court. The case is scheduled to resume in February.

The government maintains that the Bushmen’s hunter-gatherer way of life has long been lost and that the resettlement programme launched in the late 1990s will improve their lives while protecting the reserve’s wildlife.

“Like with any resettlement, you experience some problems with people who are settling in a new environment,” says district commissioner Ruth Maphorisa.

But she insists that the Bushmen voluntarily left the reserve to begin a new life in New Xade, where the Cool Way bar and billiard hall towers over the entrance to the village.

For Dauxlo Xukuri (46), president of the First People of the Kalahari group, the move to New Xade did not herald a happy new beginning.

“Everybody was moving. I had to give up. I was following my relatives and my friends, but it was not deep from my heart,” he said.

The Botswana government says the brouhaha surrounding the Bushmen is fed by a Western view of the “so-called Bushmen as some sort of exotic race living in splendid isolation from other peoples as subsistence hunter-gatherers”.

It is particularly miffed at the British-based Survival International, which has waged a decades-long campaign, accusing the government of trying to end the Bushmen’s traditional way of life.

A United Nations special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, last month called for dialogue between the government and the Bushmen to try to defuse the dispute. — AFP

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Jerome Cartillier
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