20 December 2012

Botswana: Government Accused of San Bashing

Photo: Survival International
The San people of Botswana

HUMAN rights group Survival International last week accused Botswana paramilitary police of having "severely beaten" two San men after accusing them of having hunted without permits in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

The two men were arrested near the Gope community in the CKGR after killing an eland.

Survival International said the police had buried one of the San men in a shallow grave, and beaten up both.

It said Nkemetseng Motsokono reportedly passed out after police held his throat and suffocated him before throwing him in a hole and covering him in sand.

The attack on the second man, Kebongyen Kepese, is said to have been less violent, but both men were severely beaten and held for three days.

A Botswana court had reportedly fined the two men US$190 each for illegally hunting in the game reserve. The men are out on bail, but face an eight-month prison sentence if they cannot pay the fine.

But the Botswana High Commission in Namibia said Survival International's claims are untrue.

Daniel Kgasa at the Botswana High Commission yesterday did confirm that Motsokono and Kesepe were apprehended for killing an eland in the CKGR, but said the arrest was "non-confrontational" and that Motsokono and Kepese cooperated with the police in that they led the police officers to where they had hidden the eland meat.

He said the two suspects were charged with a single count under the Unlawful Possession of Government Trophy C/S 71(3) of Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act, to which they have pleaded guilty before a court.

Kgasa said the two men were convicted and fined 1500 Pula each, payable over two months.

Kgasa said Motsokono subsequently did claim that he was assaulted by the arresting police and wildlife officers, but that this was denied by the said officers.

"Resulting investigations found no evidence to support the complainant's allegation. In this context the complainant was referred to a doctor for medical examination who found nothing to indicate that the complainant was ever assaulted by the police. The doctor did however note some small abrasions on both forearms, which were consistent with the use of handcuffs," Kgasa said.

Survival International charged that the Botswana government has made San people's lives "impossible" after they were successful in a landmark case six years ago that recognised their right to live and hunt in their ancestral lands.

The organisation said the latest attack on San by the Botswana government is not an isolated one.

Four San were arrested in July for hunting, and a leader of the Gope community was arrested in September in the vicinity of the Gem Diamond mine.

The San told Survival International that they are reliant on hunting for survival.

"We depend on the natural resources of the CKGR for our food. How are we expected to survive if we cannot hunt?" one San resident of the CKGR told Survival International.

"The Botswana government has always treated the Bushmen with racist contempt, but after the court rulings it seemed like the persecution had eased off. Now, once again, harassment and oppression are becoming the norm for CKGR residents. The government's previous persecution of the Bushmen did enormous damage to Botswana's reputation. Do they really want the international campaign to start up again?" said director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, last week.

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