Survival International turns to British royals

Basarwa lawyer Gordon Bennet addressing the media in Johannesburg. PIC: SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL
Basarwa lawyer Gordon Bennet addressing the media in Johannesburg. PIC: SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL

JOHANNESBURG: Survival International has called on the United for Wildlife (UFW) an organisation that was founded by the British royals Prince William and his brother Prince Harry to publicly declare its support for Basarwa’s cause and tribal subsistence hunting during the organisation’s annual conference next month in Kasane.

Speaking at a media conference in Johannesburg yesterday, British human rights lawyer and Survival International activist Gordon Bennett said that tribal people living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) should not be criminalised for hunting wild animals to feed their families.

“This is their way of life, they chose it, it is their central part of existence and we urge the conference to issue a statement on tribal subsistence hunting,” he said. Bennett, who represented the Basarwa in their landmark court battle with the government over their forced relocation, was banned from entering Botswana in 2013.

Bennett also emphasised that the government’s decision to increase the penalties for hunting is a serious problem for Basarwa living in the reserves, as hunting is the only way they can put food on the table. “In January 1 this year, the government increased the hunting penalties inside the reserve. The law is now tougher for the Basarwa than anyone else in Botswana,” he said.

Basarwa activist and spokesperson Jumanda Gakelebone who was also at the press conference said life in the reserve had become difficult since the new law was implemented.

Most of the Basarwa had been relocated, although between 150 and 300 remained in the reserve,” he said.  Mmegi has established that those caught hunting in the reserve will be slapped with a P2,000 fine or a jail sentence not exceeding two years.

The UFW event, to be held in Kasane, is an important international animal conservation conference. Bennett said Prince William or Prince Harry would attend the conference. The last UFW conference, held in London last year, was attended by more than 40 government and major conservation organisation representatives.


Appeal to Prince Charles

At the press conference, Survival International’s campaign officer, Rebecca Spooner, said the organisation had asked Britain’s Prince Charles to speak out about the abuses meted in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, but his office responded that he did not want to get involved, she said.

Gakelebone said the Basarwa in the reserve had stopped reporting abuses to relevant authorities, as no case had ever been investigated. A Survival International report late last year alleged there had been more than 200 cases of abuse of Basarwa by law enforcement officers. “We report cases of abuse and nothing ever happens. We even met the deputy police commissioner last August to raise the issue, but nothing has been done,” he said. When contacted for comment on this issue, Botswana Police spokesperson, Christopher Mbulawa, said he was unaware of the meeting and referred Mmegi to Police Head office, where the phone rang answered.


Khama, Sesana deadlock 

Gakelebone said another Basarwa leader, Roy Sesana, had held a meeting with President Ian Khama late last year, but their discussions had reached a stalemate.

He lamented that Basarwa had tried to talk to government for years but their efforts had not borne fruit. “Government representatives have come to CKGR, but they came just to listen to us. They never say or do anything. They just never engage us,” he said

Survival international has embarked on a campaign to ‘force’ government to revoke the hunting ban. In a previous statement, they said government officials had admitted that the Basarwa did not hunt with guns and there was evidence that their hunting was unsustainable.

“Despite this, in 2014 President Khama acted against the constitution and imposed a nationwide hunting ban. International conservation organisations have heaped praise on him. Private game ranches, however, are exempt from the ban. In a final bid to ensure their survival, the Basarwa are returning to the courts and this time they are fighting for their right to hunt in the reserve,” read the statement.

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