Basarwa have taken their struggle for mother tongue education to the ongoing 15th session of the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, USA.
Basarwa want a recommendation to be made to the forum to urge the government of Botswana to report on the issue in the next forum.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is the UN’s central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. The forum is an advisory body within the framework of the United Nations System that reports to discuss indigenous issues related to social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights. It provides expert advice and recommendations to the Economic and Social Council and to the various programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations System through the Council.
A copy of Basarwa’s position at the forum stated that the Botswana government should be urged to report on the issue in the next forum.
The speech delivered by Keikabile Mogodu, the executive director of Botswana Khwedom Council at the forum said: “Indigenous San People of Botswana like other indigenous brothers and sisters in the world agree that education is an important aspect in the lives of a society. However, the Indigenous San Peoples of Botswana bemoan the stand taken by the African States on Indigenous Peoples and the government of Botswana regarding mother tongue education in particular. Botswana like many African states still argues that all people in Africa are Indigenous People.”
Mogodu asserted that while access to education for every citizen of Botswana has been ensured, Botswana continues to deny the Indigenous San Peoples to be taught in their language, which contradicts Article 14 and 15 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“Botswana government strongly and wrongly believes that offering education in mother tongue languages would undermine nation-building and plunge the country into tribalism and civil war. Botswana believes, in line with its policy on nation-building, that no other languages apart from Tswana, a language of the dominant group, should be taught in school or officially recognised.”
He charged that in all the reports made by Botswana all they talk about is Remote Area Communities. The government, he said, fails to recognise the San People of Botswana as indigenous, but choose to refer to us as Remote Area Dwellers or Basarwa.
“Mr Chair, the education system that Botswana has in place does not take into account the culture and tradition of the Indigenous San Peoples, and continues to undermine them. This stand and the policy of the government of Botswana have the ability and continue to marginalise and leads to the extinction of the indigenous San languages,” he added.
Mogodu said that Botswana does not want to live up to its commitments as reflected in various international declarations.
“Mr Chair, pursuant to paragraph 16 of the Outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous People, states committed themselves to promote the enjoyment of culture and to allow indigenous people to use their own language. Furthermore, Article 8 of the UN Declaration implores States not to subject Indigenous People to ‘forced assimilation or destruction
He added, the policies of Botswana government forcefully assimilate and destroy the indigenous languages through their policy of recognition and promotion of the dominant Tswana culture and language.
In making their recommendations to the forum, Basarwa expressed their wish for the government to be urged to report in the next forum ‘on efforts they are making in implementing article 14 and 15 of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’.
“In light of the 2030 Development Agenda and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we urge the promotion of every child to the right of education on the basis of equality of opportunity through teaching them in their language.
“Furthermore, we encourage the integration of modern and traditional knowledge systems to ensure that indigenous knowledge is valued and recognised, as stated in Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Conclusively, we recommend UNESCO and UNICEF to provide guidance on how to implement the above recommendations,” Mogodu said.
Basarwa accuse the government of always hiding and mentioning the phrase ‘Remote Area Communities’ (RACs) in all the reports they make to the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, implying that all is well.
“The Government of Botswana has a specific policy for Remote Area Communities being the RADP policy of 2009 and the RADP Affirmative Action Framework of 2014, which specifically addresses issues of people in remote area settlements including women,” stated the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in response.
The government also said they involve people in remote areas to participate in their own development through continuous dialogue between them and the government.
“Community development strategies are employed to assist communities to participate in their own sustainable development. Indigenous knowledge system is a concept which the government has adopted as it is widespread and practiced in Botswana in different areas including culture, arable farming, livestock rearing, handy-crafts, hunting and tracking among others.”
The ministry stated that government is recognising the wealth of indigenous knowledge among Remote Area Communities and is in the process of developing the Indigenous knowledge System Policy.
“In Botswana there is free basic education from primary to secondary education, paid up to tertiary education, provision of amenities for remote area students, tuition provided by the government, feeding, transport, school uniform and allowances,” the government further stated.
On other issues the government reiterated its commitment to uphold the human rights of all its citizens including vulnerable groups, women, people with disability, youth and Remote Area Communities.
When reminded to recognise indigenous peoples, where they exist, consistent with the provision of the UN Declaration in their legislation especially in the area of land allocation and other natural resources for traditional use, the government said: “There are currently 69 gazetted settlements for RACs.”
They further added that all these RACs have been engaged in all their recognised territorial settlements. “The issues of land allocation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources is key to improved livelihoods.”