Stunning victory for Botswana's San

By Delme Cupido | June 18th, 2013
San community
San community

The residents of Ranyane, a small San settlement in Botswana, have scored a significant legal victory against the government of Botswana, which had been attempting to relocate them despite a court interdict ordering them to desist from doing so.

Earlier this month, San activists earlier alerted OSISA and other human rights organisations to the plight of the Ranyane residents, who the government planned to relocate from land that they have occupied for decades, allegedly because the settlement is located in a ‘cattle corridor’ required by commercial cattle farmers to move their livestock from one area to another.

Having obtained a court order temporarily interdicting the government from going ahead with the relocations, it appeared that the authorities were intent on proceeding with the relocations. The Botswana Human Rights Centre (DITSHWANELO) embarked on a fact-finding mission to Ranyane on June 8 and found that, government denials notwithstanding, there were indeed relocations taking place at Ranyane.

Furthermore, they found that the government had amassed 15 trucks and 10 Ghanzi District Council vehicles in the settlement for the purposes of relocating the residents, although it appeared that the people who they were relocating were actually new migrants there, having moved to Ranyane in search of water. There is some irony in this since the denial of water to San communities has emerged as one of the means – although weapons might be a better description of the use to which water has been put – that the government has resorted to in this on-going battle with the San.

As DITSHWANELO notes in a recent press release, “DITSHWANELO and its legal representatives have been informed by the residents of Ranyane that the government has not been providing them with water since February 2012. At the time, the residents were dispossessed of the borehole engine by the Gantsi District Council. The residents have, since then, contributed money, on a monthly basis, to purchase diesel for the engine in order to provide water for themselves and their livestock.”

In addition, DITSHWANELO’s legal representatives found that government officials, including uniformed police officers, had “physically occupied” the kgotla (or meeting place) in the community, thus preventing the residents from holding meetings, and further denying the resident access to water because, the statement notes, “they are being prevented from using the water-standpipe which is located next to the kgotla.”

The final order confirming the interdict, handed down on June 18th by the High Court of Botswana will therefore come as a relief to the residents of Ranyane.

In a brief judgment, Justice Moroka ordered the Respondents in the matter (Ghanzi Land Board, District Council and District Commissioner) to vacate the kgotla, to refrain from entering the household compounds of the residents without their express permission, and to refrain from removing the engine that powers the borehole at Ranyane without giving the community’s attorneys 14 days’ notice.

While this order does not by any means address the larger questions of inequality, poverty and structural marginalisation facing the San in Botswana, one can perhaps take heart from the fact that a small, marginalised community has been able to defend itself against one of the most powerful governments in our region, and has had their dignity affirmed by the highest court in the land.

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