FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana

In a healthy democracy, people are not shot at from helicopters for collecting food. They are certainly not then arrested, stripped bare and beaten while in custody without facing trial.

Nor are people banned from their legitimate livelihoods, or persecuted on false pretenses.

Sadly in Botswana, southern Africa’s much-vaunted ‘beacon of democracy’, all of this took place late last month in an incident which has been criminally under-reported. Nine Bushmen were later arrested and subsequently stripped naked and beaten while in custody.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari have lived by hunting and gathering on the southern African plains for millennia. They are a peaceful people, who do almost no harm to their environment and have a deep respect for their lands and the game that lives on it. They hunt antelope with spears and bows, mostly gemsbok, which are endemic to the area.

According to conservation expert Phil Marshall, there are no rhinos or elephants where the Bushmen live. Even if there were the Bushmen would have no reason to hunt them. They hunt various species of antelope, using the fat in their medicine and reserving a special place for the largest of them, the eland, in their mythology. None of these animals are endangered.

A shameful history of state persecution

Despite all this the Botswana government has used poaching as a pretext for its latest round of persecution. The increasingly authoritarian government of General Ian Khama sees the Bushmen as a national embarrassment. It wishes to see them forcibly integrated with mainstream society in the name of ‘progress’.

There are huge diamond deposits on, or close to, the Bushmen’s lands, as well as natural gas which is soon to be fracked out of the soil. Botswana would rather see wealthy foreign tourists on the Bushman’s lands – many of them western trophy hunters – as well as foreign corporations digging for resources underneath it. In their eyes, ‘primitive’ hunter gatherers are an inconvenience.

Between 1997 and 2002, hundreds of Bushman families were brutally evicted from their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Their homes were destroyed, their wells were capped, their possessions were confiscated, and they were moved to government eviction camps en masse. Any who tried to resist were beaten, or even shot with rubber bullets.

There are close ties between the Botswana government and the infamous De Beers diamond corporation, and both have grown rich from the gemstones. Nevertheless, the government was savvy enough to know that diamonds alone would be an ugly excuse for wiping out an entire people, so they circulated absurd rumors.

The Bushmen were ‘poachers’, they said. They rode around in jeeps, they shot game on a massive scale with rifles, and posed a threat to the environment they had been dependent on and managed for millennia. They had to change, for the sake of ‘civilization’.

Despite a landmark court ruling in 2006 which the Bushmen won with the support of Survival International, the situation is still pretty terrible. Most of the Kalahari Bushmen are still living in government camps, and access to the Reserve has only been granted to a limited number of individuals. It is enforced under a brutal permit system, which sees children born in the reserve forced from their homes and family at the age of 18.

The permits are not heritable, and so when the present generation of Bushmen dies, their people will have effectively been legislated into extinction. The system was compared to the apartheid-era South African pass laws by veteran anti-apartheid activist and former Robben Island prisoner Michael Dingake.

The annihilation of a people – genocide in open sight

As if that wasn’t bad enough they aren’t even allowed to hunt to eat. In 2014, Botswana introduced a nationwide hunting ban, but gave a special dispensation to fee-paying big game hunters, who flock to the northern Kalahari and the Okavango Delta in the extreme north of the country to shoot animals for sport.

Such a dispensation was not extended to the tribal peoples who actually live in these territories, who are accused of ‘poaching’ and face arrest, beatings and torture while tourists are welcomed into luxury hunting lodges.

And now they are being shot at from helicopters. Botswana police scour the Kalahari, looking for people hunting with spears to intimidate and arrest. The government has introduced planes with heat sensors to fly over the Bushmen’s lands looking out for ‘poachers’ – in reality Bushmen hunting antelope for food.

Police and wildlife officials then use whatever brutality they consider to be necessary to enforce the ban.

This is an urgent and horrific humanitarian crisis. An entire people’s future is at stake. If the Bushmen cannot enter their land or find food there, they will have no option but to return to the government camps, where vital services are inadequate and diseases like HIV/AIDS run rampant.

Policies like this have been used by governments all over the world. It is easier and less shocking than simply exterminating people, but in the long-term it has a similar outcome. By denying people their land and basic means of subsistence, viable ways of living are abolished, and peoples’ land, resources and labor are stolen.

In a world of larger-scale and more headline-friendly crises, the plight of the Kalahari Bushmen risks being largely ignored. Nevertheless, the Bushmen – portrayed as backward and primitive simply because their communal ways are different – could face annihilation if the brutal shoot on sight policy is left in place.

More articles by:

Lewis Evans is a campaigner at Survival International.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail