On January 27, Botswana’s Court of Appeal quashed a ruling that denied the Kalahari Bushmen access to water on their ancestral lands. With support from Survival, the Bushmen appealed a 2010 High Court judgment that prevented them from accessing a well which they rely on for water.
Indigenous peoples in Botswana
The San, the Balala, the Nama, and their sub-groups are the indigenous peoples of Botswana. Although Botswana has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous peoples are not recognised by the government. Also, they are among the most underprivileged peoples in Botswana.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted
Botswana voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on 13 September 2007.
Also, Botswana is a signatory to the Conventions on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
However, Botswana has not signed the ILO 169, the international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
There are no specific laws on indigenous peoples’ rights in the country nor is the concept of indigenous peoples included in Botswana's constitution.
The San, the Balala, and the Nama
Even though the Government of Botswana does not recognize any specific ethnic groups as indigenous to the country, 3.3 per cent of the population identifies as belonging to indigenous groups.
They are primarily residing in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana and include the San (also known as the Basarwa), who number about 64,000, the Balala, who number about 1,750, and the Nama, who number about 2,200 peoples.
The San, the Balala, and the Nama are among the most underprivileged peoples in Botswana with a high percentage living below the poverty line.
The various languages of Botswana's indigenous peoples
While the Nama is a Khoekhoe-speaking people, the San belong to a large number of sub-groups of which most have their own languages. They include the Ju/’hoansi, Bugakhwe, Khwe-ǁAni, Ts'ixa, ǂX'ao-ǁ'aen, !Xóõ, ǂHoan, ‡Khomani, Naro, G/ui, G//ana, Tsasi, Deti, Shua, Tshwa, Danisi and /Xaise.
Main challenges of the San, the Balala, and the Nama
It remains a struggle for the indigenous peoples in Botswana to stay on their land. The people living in protected areas are under constant threat of being relocated by the central government or district councils.
Another struggle of Botswana’s indigenous peoples is the drought, which entered its fourth year of drought in 2016. Although President Khama has declared a national drought emergency authorizing food deliveries and cash-for-work programs in many parts of the country, there has been no food or pension deliveries to the peoples in the Central Kalahari Game, nor in the village of Ranyane.
Fracking is being carried out by oil and mining companies in what is known as the Nama Basin in Kgalagadi District. Residents of the San and Bakgalagadi community have complained that the fracking results in a drop in the water table, lower access to borehole water in the village, and high levels of toxic chemicals and salts in the water, rendering it virtually undrinkable.
Debates about the no-hunting and anti-poaching policies in Botswana continue to intensify. While the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism argues for the controversial policy to cope with threats to the wildlife base in Botswana. The San peoples have been pressing the government for further explanation of its wildlife policies and seeking compensation for crop, livestock and human life losses to wild animals.
Arrests of indigenous and other peoples for violating hunting laws continued in Botswana in 2016.
Progress in cultural and political participation
While a Nama cultural festival was held in Kgalagadi District, a Kuru Dance Festival was held at Dqae Qare in August 2016. The Kuru Dance Festival brought together the San, the Bakgalagadi, the Mbukushu, the Herero, the Tswana, and many other peoples from across the country, and was an expression of cultural pride on the part of the groups.
Some San also participated in the 50th anniversary celebrations of Botswana’s independence held in Gaborone in September 2016.
San organizations and other NGOs in Botswana struggled in part because of a lack of funds in 2016. The San Youth Network (SYNet) continued to publish papers written by young peoples about women’s rights, children’s rights, and climate change, on their website.
The Bushmen of Botswana’s central Kalahari are well known to the world, the subject of books, films and anthropological studies. They are frequently portrayed — or, as many say, romanticized — as classic hunter-gatherers, a living link to humankind’s collective beginnings. But for decades, they have been entrenched in a tug of war over their fate that has often gone unnoticed, a saga now replete with edicts and court cases, with alcohol abuse and sundered families, with an aboriginal people despairing about the uncertainty of their future.
The US Ambassador to Botswana strongly condemned the government’s forced eviction of the Kalahari Bushmen, according to secret US embassy cables released yesterday.