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The State giveth; the State it taketh away – the last Bushmen of Botswana

Ten years ago I thought their days might be drawing to a close: Kalahari Bushmen, New Age Travellers and the paradoxes of state welfare

…perhaps their ancient way of life was doomed anyway by contact with modernity, but any slight chance it may have had to either adapt organically or fade away by consent was finished, and its end made more bitter, by government efforts to help.

And so it has proved: Botswana bushmen: ‘If you deny us the right to hunt, you are killing us’

For Jamunda Kakelebone, a 39-year-old bushman, or San, whose family has always lived as hunter gatherers, what is happening in the Kalahari desert is deeply disturbing. Not only have bushmen families like his been moved from their ancestral land to make way for tourists, diamond mining and fracking, he says, but those who remain are now no longer allowed to hunt.

The final blow came in January, when a ban came into effect prohibiting all hunting in the southern African country except on game farms or ranches. The new law – announced by the minister of wildlife, environment and tourism, Tshekedi Khama (brother of the president, Ian Khama) – effectively ends thousands of years of San culture.

In a series of evictions after 2002, the Botswana government removed several thousand San from the Kalahari reserve, claiming they were a drain on Botswana’s financial resources and that the families were happy to give up their hunter-gathering. But, say human rights groups like Survival International, the evictions were intended to allow in conservation groups, tourist companies and diamond mining.

Around 350-400 San people now live in seven “settlements” in and outside the game reserve, many of which are in appalling conditions. “Instead of being allowed to hunt, we are taken to resettlement camps and must depend on government for handouts. It’s like holding your arms and expecting to be fed. They treat us as stupid. We are given clothes and food.

The speaker, Jamunda Kakelebone, is pictured with his lawyer outside Clarence House in London. Someone should have warned Mr Kakelebone that some aspects of his message might be ill-received in a land where strong taboos hold sway.

9 comments to The State giveth; the State it taketh away – the last Bushmen of Botswana

  • Paul Marks

    As with the ranching family in Nevada who has worked the land since the 1870s – if the government owns the land (in defiance of the Constitution – Article One, Section Eight is clear that the Federal government may only own the Federal Capital, no more than ten miles square, and land in the States for military buildings) they can ruin you.

    Bushmen in Botswana, farmers in Russia or China, ranchers in the United States – if the government owns the land they can (and will) ruin you.

    And even if they do not own the land they will use organisations such as the American EPA or the various Botswana departments, to try and ruin you.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Something not mentioned……..the ANC regime hates the bushmen because they were used as trackers by the South African Army. Read up some on 31 Bn (Bushmen).


  • Nick (Blame the French!) Gray

    Here in New South Wales, a former Labor Premier has died. We are supposed to only speak highly of the dead, but I can’t forget that Neville Wran headed the state government that nationalised/statised all the coal under anyone’s property. For all his talk of decriminalising ‘victimless’ crimes (such as prostitution), that should have been a crime, and there were plenty of victims!

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Survival International are a bunch of arseholes who would see brown skinned human beings being prevented from rising out of the mud because it’s just so quaint. I wouldn’t take their word for it. Of course that may not be what’s happening here, but they don’t have a great track record.

    They moaned for example when the Saint family (at the cost of several lives) brought Christianity to the Huorani tribe in Ecuador, which helped reduce their murder rate down from somewhere in the 70% region. Hardly anyone lived to old age. No one would deny that not everything the Huorani got from contact with the developed world was good, but only a sociopath would want them to keep living as they were.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    I take your point about the patronising attitude of groups like Survival International, although I have also heard that they sometimes do good work on the ground protecting tribal people from state and other violence. As I am sure you agree, if any particular Bushman wants to carry on as his or her ancestors did, good luck to them, and if he or she wants to head to the relatively bright lights of Gabarone and seek their future there, good luck again.

    However it looks very strongly as if the Botswanan government has taken away the option for Bushmen to live in their traditional way by the use of a mixture of force (eviction from their ancestral hunting grounds and the hunting ban) and state “help” (the infantilising effects of welfare as pointed out by Mr Kakelebone).

    I may write a post someday about the superiority of the attitude to Christian missionaries towards tribal people compared to the attitude of groups like Survival International towards tribal people. My argument would not be based on the fact that I am a Christian, nor on any general assessment of how much or little I admire the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (which might vary widely between different groups). My argument would be that the missionaries wish to persuade some other human beings to believe as they themselves believe, whereas the “protectors” wish to keep them as living museum exhibits. They always remind me of those science fiction stories in which Earth is kept ignorant / keeps other planets ignorant of faster than light travel and so on. My sympathies are nearly always with those who say, “Screw the Prime Directive”.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Come to think of it, screw the “I might write a post someday”. I will cut and paste the above comment as a post right this minute.

  • Paul Marks

    Nick – reminds me of what the German government is doing.

    They are closing down nuclear power stations and expanding brown coal mining (somehow this is supposed to reduce C02 emission – no I do not understand it either).

    One problem is that the brown coal is under centuries old villages – and people object to losing their land and homes (and churches and grave yards…).

    Only to be answered in this way…..