Africa's San Bushmen Decry Relocation The government of Botswana is relocating the last few dozen San Bushmen out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. For more than 20,000 years, the San have lived in the region as hunter-gathers. The government says the Bushmen are no longer true hunter-gathers and shouldn't live in a wildlife reserve.
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Africa's San Bushmen Decry Relocation

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Africa's San Bushmen Decry Relocation

Africa's San Bushmen Decry Relocation

Africa's San Bushmen Decry Relocation

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The government of Botswana is relocating the last few dozen San Bushmen out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. For more than 20,000 years, the San have lived in the region as hunter-gathers. The government says the Bushmen are no longer true hunter-gathers and shouldn't live in a wildlife reserve.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The government of Botswana is in the process of relocating the last few dozen San Bushmen out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The move will end human habitation in an area where the San have lived for more than 20,000 years. The government says the Bushmen are no longer true hunter-gatherers and shouldn't live in a wildlife reserve. Though other small groups of Bushmen remain in Southern Africa, few live as hunter-gatherers and the Bushmen say this move could wipe out their ancient culture. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

Kumana Lintouri(ph) has only been at the government relocation camp of New Xade for one day and he's ready to leave.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

BEAUBIEN: Lintouri is one of 25 Bushmen trucked by Botswana wildlife officers out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve the day before. The government sealed off the vast desert reserve in August. Lintouri says officials are blocking the remaining Bushmen from gathering roots, berries or water. Hunting was banned several years ago and he said he had no choice but to move out. Sitting in the gray, sandy soil of his newly allocated plot of land, Lintouri pokes at the bags of cornmeal and long-life milk he's been given by the government.

Mr. KUMANA LINTOURI (San Bushman): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: `I don't know what I'm going to do to survive,' he says. `The government is ending my life by sticking me with this maize meal, this milk. I'm going to be depending on them, which makes my life very difficult. I don't want to be dependent upon someone.'

Inside the reserve, Lintouri says, he knows where to find fruits and water-rich roots. He says life is easy for him in the desert, but he's unfamiliar with this new area. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers more than 27,000 square miles, making it about the size of South Carolina. The relocation camp of New Xade is just outside the western edge of the reserve. Lintouri's wife moved here three months ago with their children. Lintouri says his very first night in the camp he and his wife got into an argument.

Mr. LINTOURI: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: `She went on drinking alcohol all night with our seven-month-old baby,' he says. `That's one of the things I hate about this area. It seems my wife and I are going to be divided. That's not the kind of life I want. Inside the reserve, she cannot go for alcohol and we are always together and planning for our lives together.'

The San Bushmen were the first humans to live in Southern Africa. For thousands of years they flourished as hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert. Eventually, their territory was constricted by Bantu farmers, who moved south from equatorial Africa. Their numbers dropped dramatically after European colonialists pushed north from the Cape of Good Hope. Recent estimates put the number of remaining Bushmen at less than 100,000. Only a few hundred of them have been living in the Central Kalahari Reserve. Tribal elders say that after the recent removals, only about two dozen Bushmen remain in what was once the heart of their territory.

Ruth Maphorisa, the district commissioner for the part of Botswana that includes the Kalahari Game Reserve, says the Bushmen, like all other residents of Botswana, shouldn't be allowed to live in a wildlife refuge.

Ms. RUTH MAPHORISA (District Commissioner): People have always argued that these who are the last hunters and gatherers, whatever, and out--argue that their lifestyle have changed because within the game reserve they've been keeping livestock, they've been cultivating land. So it's not like hunting is the main means of providing livelihood.

BEAUBIEN: Maphorisa denies that the Bushmen are being forced out of the game reserve. She says the 70-odd police and wildlife officers who descended on the Bushmen's villages in early September are there to enforce a goat quarantine and to assist any Bushmen who want to leave. Maphorisa says most of the Bushmen are moving voluntarily to government camps because they've run out of water. Since the government sealed off the reserve at the end of August, journalists aren't allowed to enter the park.

A video of the removals that was shot by the Botswana government shows the Bushmen arguing with the officials. It doesn't, however, show anyone being ordered out at gunpoint, as some Bushmen have claimed.

(Soundbite from video)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MAPHORISA: I know you cut down on the license.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In one sequence on the video, Maphorisa is chastising the village chief over the lapsed registration of his Toyota pickup truck. Besides illustrating the way bureaucracy can penetrate even the most remote parts of the globe, the confrontation shows how the Bushmen have become caught between two worlds. They want to track game and gather monkey oranges, as their ancestors did for thousands of years, but they also want to keep their pickup trucks. The government says they can do all of this at the relocation camp, but the Bushmen argue they don't know the wildlife patterns in the new area. They also say they need to remain in the Central Kalahari to be near the graves of their ancestors.

(Soundbite of cow mooing)

Mr. GENE DEFUF MONTSUMA(ph) (Bushman): ...issue that the people have been living...

BEAUBIEN: Back at the New Xade relocation camp, it's not yet noon, but Gene Defuf Montsuma is blurry-eyed drunk. He was part of a convoy of Bushmen who a few weeks earlier had tried to defy the government's quarantine of the reserve and deliver supplies to the relatives inside.

Mr. MONTSUMA: My uncles inside there, five of them. I like them. That's why I wanted to travel, to seek exile to Masimono(ph), to give them some water and food.

BEAUBIEN: Botswana security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the Bushmen to keep them out of the reserve. Alcoholism, unemployment and HIV are widespread in New Xade. The government has built a health clinic and a school, but there are few opportunities for work. The arid camp is an hour and a half's drive by four-by-four from the nearest town.

This youngest bushman is one of the lucky ones. He has a job as a civil servant in New Xade. But overall, he says the future for the Bushmen is bleak.

Unidentified Man #2: For instance, like this current situation, our sisters have got fatherless children--a lot of them, you know, and they are victims of HIV and AIDS. So after that, you know, I can't see any future with us.

BEAUBIEN: He doesn't want his name used because he's afraid of losing his government job. He was educated as all Bushmen children are required to be at a government boarding school outside the reserve. The 34-year-old says he could get work in the capital, but stays in New Xade to be near his aging parents. He adds that the Bushmen who move into town change quickly.

Unidentified Man #2: They find that, you know, their culture has changed somehow there, e--that ethnalities have changed somehow, you know. they can go out cavalierly. You know, some of them even go to--extent of forget--you know, kind of forgetting their real--their own languages.

BEAUBIEN: He says that the only hope for the Bushmen to survive as Bushmen is for some of them to carry on their traditional lifestyle in remote parts of the Kalahari. His people may have children and grandchildren in the camps, but that next generation, he says, won't be Bushmen. They'll be something else. A court case in Botswana is set to resume early next year to determine whether the Bushmen have the right to return permanently to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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