Mmegi Blogs :: Indigenous People And Minority Tribes
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Friday 21 September 2018, 15:09 pm.
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Indigenous People And Minority Tribes

In the month of August 2018, two things happened, both of which were largely missed by most. The 9th of August marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In Botswana, this day went largely unrecognised.
By Lesego Nswahu Nchunga Mon 03 Sep 2018, 12:06 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Indigenous People And Minority Tribes








On the same month, Botswana coincidentally had a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Minority and Indigenous Rights. The visit was for the UN expert to assess minority group rights. Both these occurrences were extremely important. For the reason that it is the first time we explore this area together, this piece will largely be definitive, so that when next we explore this, we are on the same page.

Indigenous people, put simply, the first people. They have distinct socio-cultural practices, traditions and political characteristics from those in dominant societies in which they live. The understanding of “indigenous people” does not come from a definition, as there are many indigenous people, the world over. The understanding comes instead, from a number of elements which essentially are premised on “identification,” a word which in Setswana is boikao. Indigenous people are self-identifying and communally recognised as such. There is evidence of historical continuity with pre-colonial/protectorate societies. They generally have strong links to the land, and surrounding natural resources, and they are not the dominant groups in society. From this, it may be evident that there are always legal issues relating to indigenous people. Particularly, the issues arise from a question of identity, culture and knowledge, including cultural rights, and finally political participation.

Tribal minorities are those tribes that are disadvantaged groups, usually smaller in number than the rest of the population, who may wish to maintain and develop their identity. The disadvantage usually stems from ethnicity, religion, language and culture.

The Constitution of Botswana provides primarily for civil and political rights. This means socio-economic and cultural rights have to be determined by Court of law, to be enforced. This does not make them any smaller. It is noteworthy at this point that indigenous people and tribal minorities have similarities. The state has an obligation to ensure the respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all her people. There is a particular emphasis on the importance of this in tribal minorities and indigenous people for the reason that there are historical traces of the violations of the rights of these groups. The three critical responsibilities that government has in this regard, are ensuring protection from discrimination of all tribes in laws and policies, effective justice systems and official mechanisms to bring complaints forward. There is also need for protection of identity and finally ensuring effective participation. All these are premised on the need to protect culture(s). A host of other rights, are dependent on the satisfaction of cultural rights. These include language, education, health and livelihoods.

Following the Special Rapporteur’s visit in Botswana, he noted some preliminary

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findings. It is important to note that he highlighted that there has been extensive progress is economic development, literacy, religious freedom, the fight against HIV/AIDS and corruption. He however expressed that there is need for more to be done for minorities. Firstly, it was noted that there is need to improve on access to public services, land and use of resources. He also advised that there is a need for a dedicated Bill of Rights, beyond the Constitution address the human rights gaps, contradictions and uncertainties.

He also specifically addressed the challenges faced by children from minority tribes, including language, distance from schools, and the lack of cultural cognisance of diverse cultures in Botswana. This institutionalisation amounts to forced assimilation, which adversely affects the children in their performance in school.

Imagine this. You are born in a remote village somewhere deep in a country, where you hardly interact with many other people. Imagine you are given a name. imagine you grow up answering to that name. After your mothers’ womb, it is what you know. Imagine you grow up knowing to speak in a language your community hears and understands. Then imagine you are six years old. You are finally going to school. You get to school and the person in front of you starts speaking in languages you do not understand. So not only are you learning new concepts like science, but you are learning them in a language you have never known. Imagine your teacher does not know your name and decides to give you a name they can call you by. Something more palatable, and acceptable to them. You struggle through your first 7years of this new existence. But beyond standard 7, you have to leave home for you to access education and everything you have known. The language, the community, the support all falls away. So not only are you in a whole new place with your education, your life as you know it has changed. How can you even stay here? Where do you get that strength? This is a reality for many children who are not from Kgatleng, Kweneng, Gamalete, Ngwaketse, Tlokweng, Borolong, Gaa Mmangwato, and Goo Tawana areas. The “Tswana areas”.

The Special Rapporteur says, and I agree, “Bold political decisions need to be made to ensure that equality amongst the different tribes and respect for diversity are fully reflected in the Constitutional order and institutional framework.” Things cannot stay the same if we are to see a change that positively impacts indigenous people and tribal minorities. Next week, we will address what “change” looks like.

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