Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Survival International

Survival is a worldwide organisation supporting tribal peoples. It stands for their right to decide their own future and helps them protect their lives, lands and human rights


Background on Survival International

  1.  Survival International was founded in 1969 to promote the rights of threatened tribal peoples. Most of our work focuses on two fundamental rights: tribal peoples' right to communal land ownership as recognised by the ILO Conventions 107 and 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples; and the right to choose how they wish to live. Currently we are working on some 80 cases of human rights violations in 34 countries with a particular focus on very isolated or uncontacted peoples who have little or no voice nationally or internationally. We have members in 67 countries and consultative status at the UN's ECOSOC. We do not accept any government or corporate funding.

  2.  Survival has worked with the Bushmen peoples of the Central Kalahari in Botswana for 15 years and we have made a number of in-depth trips to the region to consult with them. Our advocacy work aims to amplify the concerns and voice of the people "on the ground". At the request of the Bushmen and their organisation, First People of the Kalahari, we have raised the violations of their rights with various representatives of the government of Botswana, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the all party parliamentary groups on southern Africa and human rights, members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, the EU and the UN. We have also obtained significant coverage of their situation in the UK and international media (see attached materials[11]) and initiated public letter writing campaigns.

British government involvement

  3.  The British authorities have taken an interest in the case of the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. A delegation of Bushmen visited the UK in June 1996. The British High Commissioner visited the area in 1996 and questions were raised in the House of Lords on 11 December 1997 about the visit and eviction of the Bushmen. The current High Commissioner visited the region in December 2001 and his report is pending. The FCO's Annual Report for 2000 (page 121) reported that the UK government raised the issue of the Bushmen's land rights with the relevant authorities in Botswana. In November two Bushmen representatives met with the head of the FCO's southern Africa department to express their concerns about the Botswana government's continuing efforts to remove them from their land, and about the torture of Bushman hunters.


  4.  While southern Africa works to put behind it the legacy of apartheid, the Bushmen today still suffer from unacknowledged racist oppression and continuing loss of land. They are in fact a group of peoples known variously by outsiders as San, Bushmen or (in Botswana) Basarwa. (All these names are seen as derogatory by some people, but no other general term has yet been agreed; we use "Bushman" because it is the most widely recognised.) They themselves prefer to use the name of each people, such as Ju/'hoansi, Hai//'om, or Khwe (Khoe).

  5.  The Bushman peoples are the original inhabitants of southern Africa and have lived there for a least 25,000 years. In the last 300 years many have been wiped out, and most of the remainder deprived of their land and independence. While most of the killing was done by white settlers, both black and white have enslaved and exploited the Bushmen.

  6.  Yet instead of dying out, as some imagine, the Bushmen have actually increased in numbers over the last century, and are not about to disappear. According to the most recent estimates, the Bushmen of southern Africa amount to nearly 90,000 people, of whom Botswana contains 47,675, Namibia 32,000, South Africa 4,350 (4,000 of them immigrants from Namibia and Angola), Zimbabwe 2,500, Angola 1,200 and Zambia 300.

  7.  Their history of murder and oppression continues to mould the situation of the Bushman peoples today, as do the racist attitudes that justified it. This may take the obvious shape of contempt and ill treatment. However, it can also take a more subtle form. Since their traditional way of life as hunter-gatherers is devalued and considered a miserable state, "living like animals", it is seen as an act of kindness to change it, if necessary by force. This is exemplified by some aspects of the government of Botswana's "Remote Area Dwellers' Programme", the logic of which is that Bushmen must be encouraged to discard their "primitive" ways in order to be integrated into the mainstream. To quote the Foreign Minister of Botswana, "Our Treatment of the Basarwa [Bushmen] dictates that they should be elevated from the status where they find themselves . . . They should be empowered to join the mainstream . . . We all would be concerned that any tribe should remain in the bush communing with flora and fauna." (Meeting between Foreign Minister of Botswana and Director of Survival International, June 2001.)

  8.  In fact this view that Bushmen are "backward" is itself extremely "backward" and about 30 years behind the policies of many other nations, and current Un thinking. For instance, if one compares ILO Convention 169 on Tribal and Indigenous Peoples (1989) with the earlier Convention 107 (1957), the goal of "their progressive integration" (Article, 2.1) has been abandoned, because it is recognised that this is simply a euphemism for destroying them. This has nothing to do with "preserving" people in some imaginary "primitive" state. Rather, as Convention 169 states (Article 7.1) they ". . . shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development . . . and to exercise control . . . over their own economic, social and cultural development." Integrating Bushmen into national society denies their right to be different and lead a life of their own choosing.


  9.  When Botswana was the protectorate of Bechuanaland under British administration, the colonial government asked the anthropologist George Silberbauer to conduct a survey of the G//ana and G/wi Bushmen who had been living in the central Kalahari for at least several thousand years. On his recommendation, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was created on 24 February 1961 "to protect wildlife resources and reserve sufficient land for traditional use by hunter-gatherer communities of the Central Kalahari" (Game Proclamation 1961). We understand that the third and latest draft management plan for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, funded by the EU and published recently, also recognises the right of the Bushmen to remain in the reserve.

Land ownership rights

  10.  In the 1980s, the government of Botswana decided to remove the Bushmen from their ancestral territory. After a campaign by Survival, the idea was shelved until 1996 when the government again declared that all Bushmen were to be removed. In 1997 government officials invaded Bushman villages, tore down their homes, and trucked the inhabitants to "resettlement camps" far away. The conditions in the camps are miserable—ironically the Bushmen are 100 percent reliant on government food handouts since there is no hunting or gathering in this area. Many Bushmen are suffering from boredom and depression, and alcoholism is now common. Children have dropped out of school saying they are bullied and beaten by the non-Bushmen teachers and forced to speak the national language Setswana which they do not know.

  Bushmen described New Xade camp to the journalist Sandy Gall, who witnessed the first eviction, as a "place of death". Evictions have been characterised by a lack of consultation, high levels of intimidation and in some cases force.

  11.  Several hundred Bushmen managed to resist relocation and remain on their ancestral land. Survival and the Bushmen organisation, First People of the Kalahari, began a vigorous international protest and forced evictions officially ended in 1998. Some Bushmen have succeeded in returning from the resettlement camps to their homes inside the reserve, where currently some 700 Bushmen reside. Yet the authorities remain extremely hostile to them living there. In March 2001, in a clear attempt to force the Bushmen off their ancestral land, the local council voted to stop the provision of water and food to the villages in the reserve. After months of threats and verbal harassment, in August 2001 the Ministry of Local Government announced that all services to the Bushman villages in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve would be cut off at the end of January 2002. It claims that it can no longer afford to maintain this service, despite the fact it continues to service many other remote communities, and that the EU delegation in Botswana has offered to help fund the water and other essential services from part of its 10 million pula (£1,250,000) grant to Botswana for development of national parks, signed in November 2001. To date, the government has not responded to the EU's offer, and continues to state publicly that the Bushmen are free to remain in the CKGR, knowing full well that if it cuts off the water the Bushmen will have no choice but to leave.

  12.  The situation is now urgent. If the governments cuts off the water, the last Bushmen will be forced to leave their land. As one Bushman recently told Survival: "I come from a democratic country and at the same time I am crying out about land. What surprises me is that the government wants to take my ancestral land, where my great grandfathers lived for a long time. The government has taken us away from our old ways of life. She used to provide us with water but now she says she is cutting off that water supply from us. When cutting this water supply, she is trying to provoke us to move out of the reserve, and not to hunt like we used to. Democracy is prevailing on other peoples of Botswana, but not on us. Our land was set aside during the colonial period purposely for us to stay in, only we find that we don't have the land now. I am appealing to the international community to help and to support us in our struggle to get our land."

Hunting rights

  13.  The Bushmen's right to hunt is curtailed or denied altogether. In Botswana, the abolition of "special hunting licences" has made still harder the lives of those Bushmen who still depend on hunting, which is an important part of their subsistence and central to their culture and religion.

  Imprisonment of men for infringement, real or suspected, of these rules causes terrible hardship to families. In the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, torture of men suspected by police and anti-poaching units has been reported repeatedly throughout the 1990s and demands for independent investigation have gone unanswered. As one Bushman explains "If we happen to exceed the special game licences we are tortured and some people end up crippled and some end up losing their lives, like my brother who lost his life recently last year." Some recent victims commented "They treat us like this because of our race", and "maybe it's because we are Bushmen".

  14.  Hunted meat is crucial to the Bushmen's survival in the desert, and the hunt is also central in their religious and ritual lives. Their view of themselves in relation to their environment and spirit world is intimately bound up with the animals and their dependence on them. Their knowledge of and identification with the animals far exceeds that of anyone else, including the reserve officials.

  15.  The hunting restrictions are a clear violation of Bushman rights—none of the game is in danger of extinction, and the government actually encourages sport hunting by rich tourists elsewhere in the country. Even those Bushmen with a licence are frequently accused of poaching and exceeding their meagre allowance, and many reserve officials resort to bullying and torture.


  16.  Survival does not believe that any of the Botswana government's stated arguments for removing the Bushmen from these lands are compelling: the game levels are increasing; the wildlife department is happy for them to remain; the director of Botswana's hotel and tourism association has opposed the resettlement; water levels are reducing not because of the Bushmen but rather because of cattle farms in the Ghanzi area; resettlement in the new camps does not bring "development" but boredom, alcoholism and dependency; the cost of existing services is by no means prohibitive and the EU has anyway offered assistance with this. On the contrary, the most compelling arguments in the debate are that the Bushmen have internationally recognised rights to their land and way of life, and that they themselves clearly express the desire to enjoy these rights.

  17.  Our work is rooted in what the Bushmen themselves are saying to us—namely that they wish to remain on their land where the ancestors are buried. We are keen to raise awareness of the fact that under international law (ILO convention 169, which Botswana has failed to ratify) these people do have ownership rights over their ancestral lands.

  18.  We are by no means attempting to keep the Bushmen "as they are" or in some "pristine state", as has sometimes been suggested. We have no position on what choices they should or should not make, as long as those choices are their own. We seek to act rather as international advocates, amplifying their concerns about their rights to their land and to choose their own way of life, regardless of what outsiders perceive as suitable "development".

  19.  Botswana has a history of good governance rare in Africa. However, its aim is now the very backward one of integrating the Bushmen into the mainstream and ending their way of life. It must halt its violations of Bushman rights, and allow them to live in peace, in a way of their own choosing.


  20.  Survival urges the UK government and Foreign Affairs Committee:

    —  to continue to raise with the government of Botswana the situation of the G/ana and G//wi Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, who will be forced to leave their land if the government cuts off their water;

    —  to encourage the EU to make its grant to Botswana for development of national parks conditional on guaranteeing the Bushmen's land ownership rights in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve;

    —  to raise the issue of torture of Bushmen hunters with the government of Botswana and persuade them to carry out an independent investigation of reported and alleged torture and mistreatment; and

    —  to encourage the government of Botswana to ratify international conventions on indigenous and tribal peoples.


  Gall S The Bushmen of Southern Africa—Slaughter of the Innocent, Chatto and Windus, London, 2001.

  Gordon R The Bushman Myth: the Making of a Namibian Underclass, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1992.

  Hitchcock R Bushmen and the Politics of the Environment in Southern Africa, IWGIA, Denmark, 1996.

  Mogwe, A Who was (t)here first?—An assessment of the human rights situation of Basarwa in selected communities in the Gantsi District, Botswana, Botswana Christian Council, Occasional Paper No 10, Gaborone, 1992.

  Nengwekhulu R "Human rights, Development and the rule of law in post-colonial Botswana", in Botswana, Politics and Society, Eds W A Edge and M H Lekorwe, Gaborone 1998.

  Silberbauer, G B Report to the Government of Bechuanaland on the Bushmen Survey, Bechuanaland Government, Gaborones, 1995.

  Suzman J An Introduction to the Regional Assessment of the Status of the San in Southern Africa, Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia 2001.

Survival International

January 2002

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