Minister says bushmen live in ‘Dark Ages’

Botswana’s minister for environment, wildlife and tourism, Kitso Mokaila, stoked the growing controversy around his government’s treatment of Bushmen living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve by telling the BBC that Bushmen are “living in the Dark Ages in the middle of nowhere”.

Mokaila’s remark prompted a sharp counterblast from indigenous rights group Survival International.

“Mokaila’s remarks are the latest in a long line of insults by government officials and are an indication of the deep-rooted racism towards the Bushmen,” said the director of Survival International, Steven Corry.

Corry’s statement follows Survival’s launch of an international boycott of Botswana’s tourist and diamond industries and of tourism company Wilderness Safari group, which has lodges in the reserve.

Celebrities — including actresses Sophie Okonedo and Joanna Lumley — have publicly pledged their support.

Corry told the Mail & Guardian Botswana has been on a “concerted drive” to remove the Bushmen from the reserve as it attempts to grow tourism and diamond mining in the area.

‘Strangled out’
“Since 2002 the Bushmen have been refused access to boreholes, while animals and tourists are allowed water, and they are not allowed to hunt or keep animals.

“New boreholes for animals have been drilled by [jewellery chain] Tiffany but the Bushmen are not allowed access. The government is strangling them out,” said Corry.

The reserve is thought to have one of the largest diamond deposits in the world. According to Survival, the Botswana government denied that there were diamond deposits in the area before the eviction of Bushmen in 2002.

In 2007 the Gem Diamonds/Gobe Exploration Company bought the mining concessions in the Gobe area of the reserve from De Beers for $34-million.

Mining in the area stalled because of the recession and a global decline in the demand for diamonds, but earlier this year Gem Diamonds estimated that there were deposits worth about $3,3-billion in the reserve’s Gobe area alone.

Survival intimated that racism was characteristic of the government’s drive to move the Bushmen off their ancestral land, noting a litany of derogatory remarks made about them over the years.

Fighting an “archaic fantasy”
Other “racist” remarks by Botswana’s leaders cited by Survival include President Ian Khama’s comment in 2008 that the Bushmen’s hunting lifestyle is an “archaic fantasy” and a declaration by Khama’s predecessor, Festus Mogae, in 1996 that the Bushmen were “Stone Age creatures who must change, or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish”.

In July this year the Botswana High Court ruled that the government was not compelled to provide the Bushmen with water. The Bushmen are appealing against the decision.

Asked for comment, Botswana government spokesperson Jeff ­Ramsay said there was an agreement between the Bushman community and the government that “we are not going to fight this battle out in the press”.

However, Ramsay described Survival International as a “neo-apartheid organisation” which had no respect for the Bushmen and no representatives in Southern Africa.

The M&G also put questions to the spokesperson for Botswana’s department of environment, wildlife and tourism, Annah Bogatsu, a week ago.

By the time of going to print, Bogatsu had not responded.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.

His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football.


Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations