In a ruling that brought a smile to my face, Botswana's high court has ruled that the government's expulsion of about 1,000 San Bushmen from their traditional home areas in the Kalahari desert was illegal and unconstitutional.
The BBC story on the ruling is here:
While I can't say I've met a Bushman in person, I have done a bit of study of their lifestyle and I have been to the Kalahari in both Botswana and Namibia. In Namibia, the Bushmen are limited to a very small area in the east-northeast of the country. In Botswana in 2002, the San were "moved to functional but bleak settlements outside the Kalahari game reserve, where a new way of life was imposed."
A couple things are striking to me about the government's action and today's ruling:
First, the argument that the presence of the Bushmen in the Kalahari "interferes with conservation." As the article notes, the San are the oldest indigenous people in sub-saharan Africa. Why is "conservation" of the habitat of a rhino or guinea fowl more important than conservation of a culture which is believed to have lived in the area for at least 22,000 years(!)
(For more info on the San Bushmen, see the Wikipedia article about them
Second, the argument that by living in the Kalahari the Bushmen did not have good access to education and health care is disturbingly similar to the arguments made by the Australian government in moving Aboriginal people to white-controlled villages, trying to force them into non-traditional modes of behavior, and ultimately creating an underclass of depressed, unemployed, and drunk-filled townships...not too dissimlar from what happened to American Indians in the USA. It is not up to a know-it-all bureaucrat, a "progressive"-minded politician, or a simple racist to say that the views and choices and lifestyle of a people (who are not hurting anyone) are insufficient and must be regulated and changed. The Bushmen are not animals, and must not be treated as such.
And finally, on the bright side, it is great to see a court in an African country make such a big decision against its government. Botswana is properly regarded as the best-governed country in southern Africa, if not all of Africa. And despite the terribly confused thinking which caused the government to implement their Bushmen relocation policy, the country deserves credit for having a court with the power and courage to overturn the policy and an administration which (at least for now) appears to accept the court's decision.
The Bushmen are still likely to be gone in any culturally-recognizable form within a generation or two. For those of you interested in such things, I recommend a visit to the Kalahari, and to other parts of Namibia and Botswana, two of the best countries I've ever experienced.