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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Chronology for San Bushmen in Botswana

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Date(s) Item
1801 - 1850 San (Basarwa) in Botswana were threatened by the expansion of other ethnic groups into the area. The San had been the original inhabitants of all of Southern Africa. Their existence in the region dates back at least 20,000 years. Pressure in the 19th century came first from Bantu tribes, viz. Tswana, moving into San territory and then from white settlers and missionaries encroaching on their land. Since this time, the San have been pushed further into the most remote and arid areas of the country.
1894 Cecil Rhodes and British settlers in South Africa started to expand northward and tried to have present-day Botswana incorporated into the British South Africa Company. The Tswana chief Khama III appealed to the British to protect their land from the white expansionists.
1895 Botswana, then called Bechuanaland, was formally declared a Protectorate which began 70 years of British administration. During British rule, there was concern from time to time whether the San were being enslaved by the majority Tswana. Various investigations were undertaken and reports written, but little action was taken by the British on behalf of the San until the end of British rule in Botswana.
1950 A Joint Advisory Council was formed. This marked the beginning of political organizing by the majority Tswana.
1958 Mr. Silberbauer was appointed "Bushman Survey Officer" to look into the situation of the San.
Dec 1960 The (BPP) Botswana People's Party was formed. Among its demands were immediate independence, Africanization of the administration, an end to rule by the chiefs.
1961 A new constitution was adopted giving the Joint Advisory Council limited legislative powers. The BDP (Botswana Democratic Party) was formed. The Kalahari Game Reserve was established. This is land set aside specifically for the San people. It is a 52,347 area in the center of Botswana where several San subgroups continue to maintain their traditional mobile foraging lifestyle. The Fauna Protection Act of 1961 gives the right to all "tribesmen" to hunt in their "tribal areas". Previous land tenure laws of the late 19th century had given land to the Tswana but had not specifically allocated land to the San. Some of the land parceled out to the Tswana was traditional San land.
1965 Silberbauer's Bushman Survey Report was published. This report became the basis of action by the subsequent independent government of Botswana. The British government was concerned about the fate of the San after independence with no legal protection set up to protect the San or their lands from the majority Tswana. However, no action was taken other than bequeathing the Silberbauer report to the new independent government. The British government granted Bechuanaland internal self-government following a general election based on universal suffrage in March. Seretse Khama, leader of the BDP was elected president and asked to form the first African government of Botswana.
Mar 1966 The Anti-Slavery Society published a report outlining their concerns for the San of Botswana. They suggested that the British government set up safeguards for the San before granting independence to the country which would result in Tswana rule.
Sep 30, 1966 Britain granted independence to the Republic of Botswana.
1968 Tribal Land Law put into common law the customary land-holding laws of the Tswana. The San were not a priority in the immediate years following independence, but they were recognized as full and equal citizens of the new state.
1973 The Kalahari People's Fund was established. It provided technical assistance, grants, education, development research and advisors to aid San in the Kalahari region.
1974 The Remote Area Development Program (originally the Bushman Development Program) was established. A key feature of this program is to provide land for San populations. However, land allotted is insufficient to meet the needs of the San whose way of life (hunting and gathering) requires much land and frequent movement.
1975 The government announced the Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP). Its purpose is to prevent degradation of the land, reduce inequalities between the rich and poor, and facilitate the growth of the commercial livestock industry. In order to achieve these goals, the privatization of tribal lands was to be carried out. Dispossession of San has occurred in several parts of Botswana under the TGLP. By 1982, seven districts had declared commercial areas and some 300 ranches were demarcated. In most instances, the San were not compensated for their removal from these ranches.
1980 Seretse Khama died and was succeeded by Dr. Quett Masire. Masire was a founder of the BDP and was elected president by secret ballot in the National Assembly on 18 July 1980.
1981 - 1990 Botswana's economy improved greatly with an average annual growth rate between 1980 and 1990 of 11.3%. This was due in part to an increase in the commercial beef industry but also to the discovery and development of important mineral resources, especially diamonds. At independence, Botswana was one of the 20 poorest countries in the world.
Mar 1981 Reports surfaced that the South African Army began inducting San into its ranks in 1974. They were used as trackers and mercenaries hired to kill SWAPO fighters.
1984 Masire's presidency was renewed after the BDP won 29 of 34 elective seats in the National Assembly. Botswana is a multiparty democracy and is considered a system to be emulated by other African states.
1989 - 1990 River San in the Okavango Delta protested the Southern Okavango Integrated Water Development Project arguing that the project would have harmful effects on wild resources and floodplain agriculture. In response, the government put the project on hold in 1991.
Feb 1990 San, used by the South Africans in their war against rebels fighting for independence in Namibia, began to be repatriated into South Africa and Botswana with others choosing to remain behind. Some of the San came originally from Botswana with others originating in Namibia or Angola.
1991 The Kalahari Support Group was founded. This organization's activities include networking, assistance in the provision of development information, and advisory work with Kalahari communities.
1992 First People of the Kalahari was founded. First People is an activist organization of San which has assisted in development activities, networking and information dissemination, and community organizing at the local and national levels.
Mar 1992 There was growing criticism over the manner in which the government was resettling San in the central part of the country. The San have many champions outside of the country but few leaders within their own community to speak on their behalf. They have one representative in the National Assembly, but he is not San himself. Amnesty International reported that torture of the San for alleged poaching is occurring in Botswana. Security forces were detaining the San without charge, unlawfully, for up to two weeks during which the San are often tortured. They were then brought before a magistrate and charged.
Mar 17, 1992 The deputy minister of local government, lands, and housing announced that the government has decided to set aside Xade in the Kgalagadi game reserve as a permanent settlement for San. The government encouraged them to lead a settled life by building schools, clinics, and providing potable water. The San were not being given a choice in their relocation which is largely taking place to make room for the expansion of the cattle industry.
Oct 1993 The Botswana government sponsored a national conference on the needs of the San. This was attended by San representatives.
Apr 14, 1994 Human rights activists expressed concern over the plight of the San in Botswana and Namibia. They reaffirmed Amnesty International's allegations of torture by anti-poaching officials. They also reported sexual abuse by government officials working in the districts populated by San.
Sep 1995 The government declared that Basarwa can apply for land, like other citizens, but they cannot have land set aside as wildlife reserves. Several San were beaten and killed during the past few years for poaching on land that was once open to them for unlimited hunting (Deutsche Presse Agentur, September 1995).
Jul 1996 Since March, the government has been pressing Basarwa to leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Basarwa fear their removal. In May, Botswana government officials told Khwe gathered in Xade that the government wanted them to remain in the park and that there were no plans to truck them out or to close their schools and clinics (New York Times, July 1996).
Oct 8, 1996 Patrick Balopi, Minister of Local Government, Lands and Housing visited Norway and Britain to dispel "misguided thoughts" about its treatment of San. Of 43,000 San in Botswana, no more than 3,000 continue to live as hunter/gatherers. The government said there are a number of local international groups making accusations of unfair treatment of San. Balopi declared that special programs for Basarwa are necessary to bring them to the same level as other citizens (Deutsche Presse Agentur, 8 October 1996).
Nov 12, 1996 John Hardbattle, leader of First People of Kalahari, died of cancer.
Feb 17, 1998 So far (July 97-February 98), about 1,500 Basarwa have been moved out of CKGR while 200 are believed to be ill within. Ditshwanelo said government officials who routinely threatened that development projects would be frozen in their areas and that Botswana Defense Force would be deployed to remove them by force, intimated those who did not want to move. The San have been ill treated by Botswana Defense Force and wildlife officials: they have confiscated their traps and hunting equipment so the San are defenseless against lions who kill their donkeys (IPS, 17 February 1998).
Mar 9, 1998 World View Botswana (WVB) applied to the government for a license to broadcast (radio). The government denied the request saying the state run radio currently meets the objectives of community broadcasting. WVB, an NGO, had sought the license to run community based radio stations in the local community of Basarwa in hopes of empowering its residents (Africa News, 9 March 1998).
Mar 27, 1998 The government is determined to get the last of the Bushmen out of the CKGR, but they are resisting. Since 1996, they were willing to move the San out and claim it is necessary to preserve wildlife and enhance the full potential of the area. They also say the San must be saved from life "among animals" and integrated into the rest of Botswana society. In 1996, the government announced the Khwe must move out. After protests by Survival International and others, the government promised they would not be forced to move. In May 1997, the government resettled the people from Xade in "New Xade" outside the Reserve. Residents claim they were forcibly moved their possessions and their livestock were loaded onto trucks against their will and the entire village was resettled. In June 1997, the Front People of the Kalahari set up a negotiating team and sent a letter to the Minister for Lands asking for a meeting to discuss San claims to the Reserve and put a stop to all removals until land claims were settled. Meanwhile, pressure and harassment of San to leave the Reserve continued (Africa News, 27 March 1998).
Apr 6, 1998 San were scattered all over the Reserve in about 7 settlements and they started shifting their forces to agriculture. The government has finally managed to get most of the Basarwa to settlements outside the Reserve. Settlements program began May 1997; the government promised a better life and access to social amenities. The fight to stay in the Reserve is led by the First People of the Kalahari led by Roy Sesama also supported by Botswana Christian Council (Africa News, 6 April 1998).
Jun 17, 1998 Survival International and local human right groups are working to stop the government from removing the San from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Local groups working on their behalf include the First People of the Kalahari and Ditshwamelo. The Minister of Lands and Housing Patrick Balopi said the San would be given better clinics, schools, water and financial aid for businesses, farms and livestock, but in this way they will lose their lands and trading way of life. Balopi said 81 out of 160 families in Xade agreed to be moved out of the Game Reserve. Richard Garside, Press Officer for SI said force and coercion were used to move some 1,000 people out of the park and only 200-400 remain resolute in their refusal to leave. Persecution and marginalization of the San remain a daily reality (Business Day, 17 June 1998).
Jun 20, 1998 Last year, police and conservation officials began pressuring the Khwe bushmen to leave their homes and dumping them in a new model village outside the reserve with no water, no permanent buildings and no opportunities. Their expulsion is probably motivated by government plans to allow diamond mining and tourism on the reserve they were living on. Expelling the Khwe prevents the possibility they could lay claim to the diamonds and will give tourists and primordial wilderness without human inhabitants (The Guardian, 20 June 1998).
Jul 10, 1998 Botswana has never recognized the land of Basarwa. There are 65,000 San in Botswana and the government is trying to prevent them from claiming their traditional lands. Some 1,500 are currently preparing to take the state to count over a piece of land in the Central Kalahari game reserve that the government wants them out of (IPS, 10 July 1998).
Dec 14, 1998 President Festus Mogae said that Botswanan authorities hoped that about 1,000 Namibian refugees seeking asylum will return home. Among the refugees are around 100 political leaders fighting for the secession of the Caprivi strip and the rest are composed by indigenous San Bushmen, who are fleeing from Windhoek due to a reaction against the secessionists (Agence France Presse, 14 December 1998).
Jun 2005 San allege that five residents of Kaudwane were beaten by officers from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on two separate occasions after being questioned about poaching. Clinical documentation and other villagers corroborated the allegations. (US Department of State. 03/08/2006. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2005: Botswana." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.)
Sep 1, 2005 - May 22, 2006 The government closes the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the traditional homeland of the San, due to an outbreak of disease. (US Department of State. 03/06/2007. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2006: Botswana." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.)
Sep 24 - 25, 2005 20 Bushmen are arrested as they attempt to enter the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which has been closed due to a disease outbreak, to protest the government's relocatin of the San. Police shot rubber bullets at the demonstrators. (Agence France Presse, 09/27/2005, “Botswana Bushmen in court after violent protest over homeland”)
Dec 13, 2006 The High Court rules in favor of the San who brought suit against the government for the 2002 forced relocation. The decision stated that the San had the right to enter the Reserve. While the court did not obligate the government to continue providing services to the San inside of the reserve, the court did determine that the San should enter the Reserve freely and be granted hunting licenses. (US Department of State. 03/06/2007. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2006: Botswana." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.)


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Information current as of July 16, 2010