Following sixteen years of hunger after the discontinuance of the provision of food rations to orphans and destitute persons living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), government last-week restored the services much to the jubilation of Basarwa.
The services were terminated in 2000 in a bid to force residents to move from CKGR to neighbouring settlements and this continued until the 2006 landmark case in which Basarwa fought government tooth and nail over the move. This was criticized by the then High Court judge, Unity Dow, who held that terminating such essential services was a “a breach of their constitutional right to life.”
Dow was however overpowered by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi and now Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo who held and ruled that the termination of services to Basarwa was not unlawful as government was not obliged to restore them.
As well as food, residents were provided water, transport for children to and from school, healthcare through a mobile clinic and ambulance services. While other services have been restored, although at unsatisfactory levels, there has always been an unexplained delay of the provision food rations to destitutes and orphans.
In an interview with this publication, CKGR councillor, Bashi Thiite said Basarwa are happy with the restoration of rations despite some concerns.
“We still wonder what assessment criteria the government was using to choose those who are eligible to receive food and not. The truth of the matter is that most of the inhabitants are so poor and hardly afford a daily meal, we are still going to take up this matter with the government,” he said.
Assistant Minister of Local government, Botlogile Tshireletso said, “We are delivering and continuing to look out on any needs that require our attention.”
Meanwhile, coordinator in the Ministry of Local Government Remote Area Development, Samuel Rathedi, is reported to be unhappy with how CKGR “elders” run affairs in the area, particularly the series of meetings held in the area without his knowledge and input.
Rathedi was in the United States of America with his Minister, Slumber Tsogwane attending a United Nations meeting on indigenous people- when the rations were delivered and found the issues resolved without his input- a frustration he is said to have excoriated his juniors for.
Last year, President Ian Khama who is often criticized for advancing tourism interest over the welfare of Basarwa, decided to engage Basarwa in a move seen by some as a strategy to alienate Survival International who have been vocal and fiercely advocating for Basarwa over these matters.
Khama ordered the formation of a task force to look into the restoration of services in the CKGR, a move which led to activist Roy Sesana being employed as a civil servant. The task force was controlled from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry with the assistance of other stakeholder ministries like the Local Government and Tourism which is headed by Khama’s brother Tshekedi.
The provision of food rations to destitutes and orphaned persons comes at a time when poverty is extremely high in the area.