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Minority tribes report Gov’t to UN

CREATIVE: Minority tribes want peaceful co-existence with wildlife


Botswana’s minority tribes, including Wayeyi, Basarwa and Hambukushu among others have told the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on cultural rights Farida Shaheed of possible human rights abuses meted by the Botswana Government.


The tribes have expressed frustration, anger, mistrust and fear of the government and its possible future plans, in particular when it comes to the resolution of human – wildlife conflicts.


The tribes, some of which have had protracted legal battles with the government made these revelations to the UN Special Rapporteur during her 13 days visit to Botswana recently. Shaheed was in the country to scrutinise Botswana’s human rights record, particularly on cultural rights.


Shaheed in her preliminary observations said the minority groups are not happy: “In many of the places I visited, I heard the frustration, anger, and fears expressed by people, in particular San, Hambukushu and Wayeyi communities, which stem from the lack of clear information about and understanding of the policies in place and future plans, in particular when it comes to the resolution of human – wildlife conflicts”.


 “The legacy of past violations of human rights in the distant and more recent past needs to be acknowledged and addressed if the authorities wish to engage in meaningful consultations with communities for the future,” she said.


“The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has been at the centre of considerable controversy since the Government decided to relocate all people to settlements outside the Reserve,” said Shaheed.

Despite a Court ruling confirming the right of the petitioners to return to the Reserve, concerns remain regarding an overly restrictive interpretation of the ruling and the right of offspring to remain on the reserve upon attaining majority at 18 years of age. “I would like the Government to clarify the matter,” the expert said.


“I have been assured by the Government that there will be no fencing in of the area, no eviction of local communities, and no disruption of their rights of access to natural resources,” she added. The Special Rapporteur hoped that such steps would help to establish good practices in this area, including for other parts of the country.


Shaheed also called for more alternative spaces for people, besides the traditional spaces offered by kgotlas governed by chiefs, to engage in sports and creative activities in both rural and urban centres.

“I welcome the increased number of cultural activities being promoted by the Government, through numerous festivals and competitions across the country,” she said.

“I encourage the Government to expand its support to non-traditional forms of cultural expressions and consider the establishment of a national arts council for the promotion and further development of artists and creative industries.”


She congratulated Botswana for her success in having the Okavango Delta included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.


“I particularly welcome the consultative process engaged in by the Government before the listing as well as the recognition that the Delta has been inhabited for centuries by small numbers of people with no significant impact on the ecological integrity of the area,” she said.


According to the UN Special Rapporteur, “the time has come for a second phase of nation building that reflects, builds on and celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the country.”


“While the use of Setswana as the national language has enabled most people in the country to communicate with each other, mother tongue education in the first years of schooling is certainly a way forward.  The risk of further disadvantaging children in remote areas who have no or minimal exposure to Setswana in their families and communities, in particular those residing in hostels without family support systems, is significant.”


The Special Rapporteur, whose mandate is to monitor the implementation of cultural rights, stressed that issues relating to the recognition of tribal communities as tribes under the Bogosi Act of 2008 need to be addressed.

“Unlike the eight Tswana tribes who have an automatic seat in the House of Chiefs, other communities do not,” she said. Shaheed also expressed concern that the adjudication system based on the Kgosi (chiefs) leads to the dominant tribe imposing its customary law, with a few exceptions, on all groups in a particular tribal territory in civil matters.


The Special Rapporteur visited Gaborne, Maun, Ghanzi / Dkar, Old Xade, New Xade, Shakawe, the Tsodilo Hills as well as several villages in the Okavango Delta, and Ramotswa. She met with Government officials, chiefs, artists, academics and representatives of civil society.


The Special Rapporteur will develop her assessment and recommendations in a report to be presented at the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2015 in Geneva.


Speaking to WeekendPost, Keikabile Mogodu, who is the San Rights Group’s spokesperson said the UN Special Rapporteur has summed it up. “She has taken our words and verbalised our long standing grievances and views. We are all Batswana and we agree that Setswana has united us, but there is need to recognise other languages. That’s unity in diversity we always talk about,” he said.

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