Our journal Socialist Standard has carried criticism of the manner that the Bushmen of the Kalahari are being driven from their land and this our blogs too have highlighted the situation. Despite world attention being drawn to their plight, the persecution of the Bushmen continues.
Lewis Evans a campaigner with Survival International describes how some Bushmen were shot at from helicopters for collecting food, then arrested, stripped bare and beaten while in custody without facing trial. All of this took place late last month in an incident in Botswana.
The Bushmen of the Kalahari have lived by hunting and gathering on the southern African plains for millennia. Bushmen are portrayed as backward and primitive simply because their communal ways are different. They are a peaceful people, who do almost no harm to their environment and have a deep respect for their lands and the game that lives on it. They hunt antelope with spears and bows. They hunt various species of antelope, using the fat in their medicine and reserving a special place for the largest of them, the eland, in their mythology. None of these animals are endangered. Despite all this the Botswana government has used poaching as a pretext for its latest round of persecution. Botswana would rather see wealthy foreign tourists on the Bushman’s lands – many of them western trophy hunters. The government of General Ian Khama wishes to see them forcibly integrated with mainstream society in the name of ‘progress’. There are also huge diamond deposits on, or close to, the Bushmen’s lands, as well as natural gas which is soon to be fracked. To the foreign corporations the presence of ‘primitive’ hunter-gatherers is an inconvenience.
The government is savvy enough to know that diamonds alone would be an ugly excuse for wiping out an entire people, so they circulated absurd rumors. The Bushmen were ‘poachers’, they said. They rode around in jeeps, they shot game on a massive scale with rifles, and posed a threat to the environment they had been dependent on and managed for millennia. They had to change, for the sake of ‘civilization’. In 2014, Botswana introduced a nationwide hunting ban, but gave a special dispensation to fee-paying big game hunters, who flock to the northern Kalahari and the Okavango Delta in the extreme north of the country to shoot animals for sport. Such a dispensation was not extended to the tribal peoples who actually live in these territories, who are accused of ‘poaching’ and face arrest, beatings and torture while tourists are welcomed into luxury hunting lodges. Botswana police scour the Kalahari, looking for people hunting with spears to intimidate and arrest. The government has introduced planes with heat sensors to fly over the Bushmen’s lands looking out for ‘poachers’ – in reality, Bushmen hunting antelope for food. Police and wildlife officials then use whatever brutality they consider necessary to enforce the ban.
If the Bushmen cannot enter their land or find food there, they will have no option but to return to the government camps, where vital services are inadequate and diseases like HIV/AIDS run rampant. By denying people their land and basic means of subsistence, viable ways of living are abolished, and peoples’ land and resources are stolen. It is easier and less shocking than simply exterminating people, but in the long-term it has a similar outcome.