San go to court to reclaim Kalahari homes

Published Jul 5, 2004


Maun, Botswana - The plight of Southern Africa's earliest inhabitants, the San, comes to the fore today when Botswana's High Court begins hearing a landmark land case in the Kalahari desert.

A group of 243 San are challenging their resettlement from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of the world's largest sanctuaries and an area they have been calling home for the past 20 000 years.

"We are determined to remain on our ancestral land," said Mathambo Ngakaeja, a co-ordinator of the Botswana chapter of the Working Group on Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa.

At issue is a decision by the Botswana government in 2002 to cut off water, food and health services to the San of the Kalahari due to costs, and regrouping them in settlements built outside the reserve.

The San took the government to court in April 2002, seeking an order declaring it illegal to terminate services to their people living in the reserve.

The case was dismissed on a technicality but last month the San won the right to have their claim heard again.

President Festus Mogae has declared that he is determined to win the case and plans to appeal if the ruling does not go in the government's favour.

He dismissed the Sans' demands as "nonsense", arguing that as the first settlers in the region, the San could theoretically lay claim to the whole of Southern Africa.

The court was due to examine the case today with inspections of villages in the Kalahari, including one flattened by the government since the relocation began. - Sapa-AFP

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