Survival International is urging travellers to stay away from Botswana due to its controversial treatment of its indigenous Bushmen population. The human rights charity is calling for a boycott of the popular safari destination and has received celebrity endorsement from actor Joanna Lumley, illustrator Sir Quentin Blake and musician Julian Lennon, son of John. Two decades ago the Botswana government began a controversial process of "relocating" Bushmen from their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a protected area roughly the size of Slovakia. The government claims it moved the indigenous hunter-gatherers to preserve the reserve, which is home to wildlife including cheetahs, leopards and lions. However, critics believe there’s a more insidious reason for the controversial relocation programme. “We and many of the Bushmen have always thought that diamond finds beneath the Kalahari were behind the evictions,” said Mike Hurran, a campaigner for Survival International.
The government has denied there is a link between the diamond reserves and its controversial relocation programme, which has forced Botswana’s Bushmen to adopt more modern lives in resettlement camps. Tlhalefang Galetshipe is one of the Bushmen who has been resettled. “We said that we didn’t want to abandon our culture here and go elsewhere,” he explained. “This is our ancestral land, why should we leave it and go elsewhere?” While the state has provided facilities for the Bushmen in its resettlement camps, such as housing, schools, clinics and livestock, Survival International claims these provisions are wholly inadequate. The human rights group says unemployment is high, disease is rife and alcoholism is commonplace in the camps, as the Bushmen struggle to adapt to their modern lives.
The law is on their side. In 2006 a landmark ruling in Botswana’s high court granted the Bushmen the right to return to their land, but the government has continued to enforce a permit system that restricts their access to the reserve. Ten years on from that court ruling – and as Botswana celebrates 50 years of independence from the UK – Survival International is calling for action. “Botswana's terrible treatment of the Bushmen has gone on far too long,” said musician Julian Lennon. “In this historic year, we’re calling on the government to listen to their wishes and respect their human rights.” Stephen Corry, Survival International’s director, added: “The country’s own high court has ruled in favour of the Bushmen’s right to their land, and to continue to limit access to the Kalahari to its first peoples is a sign of brutal authoritarianism in a country so often praised as a beacon of African democracy.
“Botswana needs to properly earn that reputation by ending this appalling mistreatment of its tribal peoples.” However, some claim a boycott could be counterproductive. “While most agree the government’s actions have been heavy-handed in the past, I have seen for myself how well its conservation policies have protected Botswana’s unique and fragile ecosystems,” said Telegraph Travel’s destination expert, Richard Madden. “It has also gone to great lengths to ensure local Botswanans and indigenous groups, including the Bushmen, are employed in tourism and benefit from it, along with their communities.” [telegraph.co.uk]