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CKGR burial divides opinion as case heads to CoA

Lesiame Gaoberekwe

It has been over four months since Pitseng Gaoberekwe’s corpse has been lying in a government mortuary in Ghanzi awaiting to be buried in his ancestral land, next to his late father’s grave in Central Kalahari Game Reserve.   

The government has resisted efforts to have Gaoberekwe buried in the CKGR. The family of the deceased has pleaded with the court and authorities, albeit unsuccessfully, to be given access to bury their family member in CKGR.

The High Court in Gaborone this week gave an order that the son of the deceased, Lesiame Gaoberekwe, be arrested and imprisoned if the corpse is not buried within 10 days.

In a defiant spirit, Lesiame said he is not willing to bend and bury his father anywhere else beside the CKGR. “Maybe it is better if I get jailed because I want to bury him next to his father, there is a graveyard in CKGR,” he said.

The burial debacle has sparked much controversy from various quarters of the society and opinion leaders.

BASARWA ARE SPOILT – SIDNEY PILANE

Speaking to the media, Advocate Pilane who is representing the government on the matter said Basarwa are spoilt and must be treated like anyone that comes to court.

“Basarwa must pay costs. When you come to court, and you lose the case you pay costs, but we told the judge not to instruct them to pay the cost, but I think in the future they must pay costs so that they do not think they can just run to court and not pay the costs . We are making them used to having things for free, there are poor Batswana out there, but we did not make them get used to be done everything for free.

There is no evidence that the deceased wanted to be buried in CKGR and there is no evidence that he was living in CKGR, but we work with evidence in court. The evidence that we have indicates that the deceased has been living in New Xade since 1997. The government has stopped Pitseng to be buried in CKGR because it’s a game reserve. Should we allow every Motswana to be buried in CKGR? Is that what we should do? What will then be a point of having national reserves? Why should Basarwa have that right when we don’t have that right?”

BASARWA NEVER ASKED FOR ASSISTANCE FROM GOV’T – MOTSAMAI

A Member of Parliament for the constituency in which the family hails from, Motsamai Motsamai has also added his voice on the matter saying the government should not interfere with the way of life of the Basarwa who lived in peace in CKGR.

This is ridiculous. I doubt if one corpse can taint a reserve that is the size of Lesotho. Pilane says Basarwa are spoilt, that was not right. They never asked assistance from government, it wanted to change their lives. What could have been done was to improve their lives in the CKGR so that they can know how to make economic sense out of the game they were hunting. This is not right, we are talking about old people who have been in the CKGR.

My view, the court should have determined those who were born in the CKGR, and they should be buried there. It is their ancestral land. Only the next generations could be buried elsewhere. Initially, they said the death was caused by Covid related ailment, but look at the period that has elapsed, Covid corpse do not stay for long, it was just a gimmick from the state, from there Pilane passes this kind of remarks. I will meet with the family for final decision. The court was to make a ruling on the matter of costs, as he is in Gov’t mortuary.”

BASARWA HAVE SACRIFICED A LOT – GAKEMOTHO KHWEBE SATAU

Gakemotho Khwebe Satau, who is the regional Chair for Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) has also added his voice on the matter:

“I concur with the bereaved who needs access to CKGR in order to lay his father at a rightful last home. This case is a symptom of anomalies not addressed during the 2006 court ruling. The rulings divided descendants of the CKGR between the applicants and those who were coerced by the government to relocate. Those coerced to relocate cannot claim heritage rights to CKGR as their demise. The 2006 case focused on eviction only without other human rights. No other fringe rights were included in the rebuttals.
We need to do that now. Those evicted had no bargaining power or their heritage rights inclusive of social cultural and economic freedoms were excluded from the narratives of eviction and the results of the court ruling came as a surprise. The eviction did not touch on issues of access and benefits sharing, since they were forced to relinquish those rights.

In Botswana, the Bakhwe have sacrificed a lot; land as conservation and mining areas without royalties, their language, their identity and their traditional economies among others. Bakhwe in totality have suffered systematic exclusion at the hands of arrogant and devilish government. And the Botswana government succeeded in their exploitation, keeping them fragmented through resettlement program and lies to Batswana and the world in general. Bakhwe have tried their level best to lobby the government of the day to recognize their human rights obligations by hiding calls from human rights organizations, scholars, independent UN special missions, African Commission, SADC etc.

but were refused to listen. Now is the time for us Bakhwe to unite and find a fit in to the broader society as people who have rights, land and resources and deserve to be respected accorded the bargaining power in development discourses and decisions. Apparently, God sent Batswana have pledged to support on the case. I am preparing to pledge towards that call and have been encouraging people to be at the forefront to support against the ordeal that has befallen our fellow men. Encouraging other Bakhwe to lead the struggle and support at the forefront. ”

THE CKGR IS NOT A GAME RESERVE. IT’S A HOME – NGAKAAGAE

A prominent attorney Kgosi Ngakaagae who has mobilized financial assistance to help the family to get the best legal representation has through his Facebook account called on the government to allow the family to bury their father in CKGR.

“We need to disabuse ourselves of the thinking that the CKGR is a game reserve. The CKGR is first and foremost a home for the inhabitants of the first people of our country. They are entitled to be buried there, the same way I am entitled to be buried in Mahalapye, or Serowe. They are entitled to live there the same way I am entitled to live in the Gammangwato area. We need a reset of attitudes, on this score. The arrogance of Batswana tribes (which run the government), is atrocious. It epitomizes the worst expression of man’s inhumanity to man. One day, we will look at our handling of the CKGR, issue, and our treatment of fellow citizens (Basarwa), with unforgivable shame.”

BASARWA HAVE BEEN ROBBED OF THEIR ANCESTRAL LAND -TAOLO LUCAS

A Bobirwa legislator Taolo Lucas who is vocal about the social injustices and equal rights to minority posits that the government has stolen the Basarwa land.

“It is disheartening to note that the systemic marginalization of Basarwa follows them to their graves. The Basarwa have been robbed of their ancestral land and even after they have won that famous landmark case on their access to the CKGR, several legal and administrative hurdles are placed on their way to access the land of their forefathers even just to use that land as their final resting place.

Burials, in all cultures, have deep spiritual, emotional and sentimental dimensions and to deny a person burial at the place of their choice is tantamount to defining the spirituality and the human rights of such individuals. As a country, we have trampled on all manner of rights for Basarwa, and it’s time we stop paying lip service to Basarwa socio-economic, political and cultural empowerment. I associate with those who are taking the matter on appeal. It is my hope that the Appeals Bench will transcend narrow stereotypes and issue a final verdict that shall recognise the dignity and human rights of Basarwa.”

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