Vol.21 No.43

Thursday 18 March 2004    

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News
An insight into the life of Stephen Corry

GIDEON NKALA
Staff Writer

3/17/2004 9:59:22 PM (GMT +2)

THERE is nothing particularly striking about Survival International boss Stephen Corry. He is not muscular nor is he surrounded by a wall of bodyguards whenever he moves around. His soft voice does not immediately attract attention.


But still when he speaks, people and nations sit up and pay attention. The government of Botswana is spending thousands of Pula, perhaps millions, to fight him and Survival International (SI).

The 52-two-year old father of three daughters has been with SI since 1972 when it was re-launched in London. Corry who is in Botswana for the Civicus event left school at the age of 16 even before he could even complete his A' levels. At the time, his burning desire was to travel and learn languages. At the age of 16 and with very little guidance, he travelled to places like Nepal, Turkey and India. Because his mother was born in India, he was particularly interested in learning a lot about the country and fulfilling his passion of mountain climbing.

"I wanted to do this alone," he said with a glint of nostalgia in his eye.

At 18 he found himself in Nepal and Mount Everest. With no money and no support, Corry had to rely on the local people for sustenance.

His voice deepens into a growl when he talks about this period which he calls a watershed.

"This was a turning point in my life. My interaction with the Himalayan tribespeople overturned my pre-conceptions. There was no superior or inferior being. I was just a human being like them," he said.

Before his interaction with the Himalayan tribes, he had always believed that British civilisation and development was the best.

"I lived with people who had no electricity or cars and yet they lived very fulfilling lives. They had no schools but they were very intelligent people. I became even more thirsty to understand and learn more about the tribes people of the world."

With a changed mindset, he returned to London where he thought he would be out of step with the general outlook.

"I thought people would think I am crazy with my new found ideas. I could not believe it when Survival International was re-launched in 1972. I could not believe that there were people who thought and saw things the way I did. I immediately joined."

On joining SI, he wanted to be dispatched to Brazil to study the indigenous people in Brazil. He was asked to stay in London and do research.

"For over 20 years, we have been battling with the Brazilian government and we have achieved so much over the years."

In his 32 years of "struggle" he said he has known one thing. "We don't give up and we will not give up with the Botswana government."

In his scheme of things, the Basarwa issue will require a lot of patience and perseverance and this is what his organisation has in abundance.

"The Basarwa issue will be fought all the way. If it fails this time around, we will appeal until we reach the very final stages."

Will his organisation pay for the legal costs for the Basarwa case? He is not prepared to say much on this. But he revealed that some of the best legal brains in the world will be working on the case.

In his 32 years experience in fighting for indigenous people's rights, he said, Botswana's denial of taking away Basarwa's rights is a classic case that continues to amaze him.

"Having worked with over 100 tribal people, I have never seen this. Even the most repressive regimes acknowledge that there is a problem.

I have hope though. This is a process," he said.

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