For many years now, Roy Sesana has been the face of Basarwaâ€™s protracted struggle against the Botswana government. Perhaps the most well known Mosarwa figure around the world, Sesana is an icon to many.
The outspoken leader shot to prominence in 1991 after he co-founded First People of Kalahari (FPK) together with the late John Hardbattle. The organisation’s primary mission was to promote Basarwa’s traditional way of life, which then was under attack from civilisation forces led by the government.
His name grew into prominence over the years owing to his courageous and ceaseless struggle for the rights of his people. That earned him good standing and recognition within his tribe because he was always at the forefront of wars and protests fought so well against all those who threatened the core of his people’s existence.
Now after years of the struggle, even some of his own people that have revered him are questioning his deal with President Ian Khama. There are murmurs in the CKGR that Sesana has sold out.
Sesana recently reached a deal with Khama that would see the government supply Basarwa in CKGR with water. Sesana has also been employed as a CKGR community facilitator by the government. He will use his position to mobilise residents of CKGR to venture into the tourism business.
CKGR area councillor, Bashi Thiitse, told Mmegi that it is true that the people are worried about Sesana’s employment in the civil service but defended the Basarwa advocate for accepting a job in government.
“Look Sesana went to the President after consulting (Basarwa within CKGR). I honestly think he was carrying out his mandate of emancipating the people of CKGR from their daily struggles,” said Thiitse.
Thiitse said Sesana has the interests of Basarwa at heart and as such needs to be supported and applauded for his work. He however conceded that the issue of Sesana’s employment has not been well clarified to the Basarwa community in CKGR. This he said has left many people confused.
Thiitse asked Basarwa to calm down, saying he believes Sesana will never abandon them, as he is a born leader and father of Basarwa. “I think we should see his employment as an opportunity as he is someone who has our interests at heart.
His work with the government is good for Botswana and Basarwa,” he said.
He said Batswana should appreciate the government‘s change of heart as Basarwa have been suffering with lack of services imposed on them by the same government.
SI welcomes Sesana-Khama deal, but...
Survival International (SI), the organisation that champions the rights of tribal peoples around the world has welcomed the Sesana-Khama deal with reservations.
In an email response the organisation’s campaigner, Rachel Stenham, said, “It is of course good news that the government is showing some willingness to collaborate with the Bushmen (Basarwa) after years of abuse against the country’s First Peoples.”
She said while the organisation welcomes promises to restart services they are worried about false promises. “Survival welcomes promises to restart services, but will the government live up to these promises? And what guarantee is there that the services will be continued after the 50th anniversary celebrations have passed?”
Stenham further said key priorities for many of the Basarwa are still being ignored: “…When will the government uphold its High Court ruling that grants all CKGR Bushmen the right to return home?
And when will the Bushmen’s right to hunt using sustainable methods be restored? If the government only instals boreholes for tourist camps inside the CKGR it will be of little help to communities, such as Gugamma who still do not have access to a borehole for their own use. These are all things Roy will undoubtedly be discussing with the ministry.”
Survival says they only hope that this new move by the government to engage with the Basarwa is more than just a publicity stunt on the eve of the country’s 50th anniversary celebrations. “Time will tell, and we will continue our campaign for the Bushmen until their rights to their lands and ways of life are fully restored,” she said.
Jumanda skeptical but hopeful
Renowned Basarwa activist and spokesperson, Jumanda Gakelebone says he is a worried man.
Gakelebone has fought so many battles alongside Sesana and has been his advisor, interpreter and adopted son for so many years.
In the media fraternity he was known as the Basarwa spokesperson and Sesana’s right hand man. His worry is that now that Sesana is a civil servant, he will be governed by the civil service regulations.
“I do not want to speak about the matter yet because I am still gathering my information, but look, Sesana is a family man, he has to feed his family and he knows the struggles of Basarwa very well. What he is doing with the government may be good or wrong, only God knows but we should not rush to pour water on it,” he said.
Gakelebone however says he is worried that his advocacy will be compromised as a civil servant. “He is celebrated everywhere as a leader of Basarwa and a fearless advocate who has gone through all forms of abuse for his work but will he still talk freely and with his usual aggression?” asked Gakelebone who is also an opposition councillor in the Gantsi District Council.
Gakelebone said he trusts that all is well and that no one will live to regret in the future, further adding that the change of heart by the government is a welcome development.
Botswana Khwedom Council responds
The San advocacy group, Botswana Khwedom Council’s director, Keikabile Mogodu, said he hopes the government means well.
“Sesana has to eat and we cannot argue about that but the worry is about his advocacy. Will he continue to speak? Was he targeted in an effort to cripple Basarwa’s struggle for emancipation? Why is his employment such a secret? These are many of the questions that arise. However, we are happy at the government’s response to the situation in the CKGR and we hope that this is the beginning of good things to come,” he said.
Mogodu said his hope is that their funders will not, as some Basarwa do, see Sesana as a sell-out but a deal-breaker. “We will be monitoring everything and giving credit where it is due henceforth,” he said further promising that the struggle won’t die.
Meanwhile sources say Ditshwanelo, which in recent years has been an opponent of Sesana’s work, is in the area investigating the issue. Sesana is on record saying Ditshwanelo is useless and a sell-out. The area councillor said he knows about the issue of Ditshwanelo, adding that they are still investigating the matter.
I have not sold out – Sesana
In an interview with Mmegi, Sesana dismissed suggestions that he sold out and betrayed the Basarwa’s struggle for a job in government.
“Ke a itse gore gona le Basarwa bangwe ba ba reng ke ba lathile ke ja le Ian. Batho bao ba thoka go isiwa ko menthale rra baye go chekwa thaloganyo, ke ta buwa le wena ka lebakanyana kgantele. (I know that there are Basarwa who suspect that I have deserted them and now decamped to Ian Khama’s camp. Those people are mad and need mental checkup. I will speak to you in depth later). Later, Sesana snubbed Mmegi saying he has been advised not to speak to the media.
The Gantsi District Council did not respond to Mmegi enquiries saying the issues are sensitive while the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, did not respond despite several promises to Mmegi.