Monday, July 05, 2004

Botswana: more on the San/Kalahari reserve dispute

If you're unfamiliar with the court case and the dispute over the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), read this post first.

I have been doing some reading since that last post ... and gained a new appreciation for the complexity and diversity of perspectives on the issue. Most useful was this paper written by James Suzman, a professor at Cambridge University whose area of research is the Khoisan (San/Bushmen) peoples.

Suzman gives a broad overview of the challenges facing the San and the cultural/historial context of the government's actions. It's a fascinating paper and I strongly recommend reading the whole thing (only 8 pages).

One of the reasons the government cites for resettling the San off the CKGR is that the San's current lifestyle is not compatible with efforts to preserve wildlife resources. While Suzman doesn't buy the argument completely, he does show that the San in the CKGR stopped living exclusively as hunter-gatherers a few decades back. Here is how how their lifestyle began changing ...
George Silberbauer worked as the Bushman Survey Officer in the Central Kalahari during the 1960s. At that time, the G/wikhoen and G//anakhoen San that lived there depended almost entirely on hunting and gathering. Unlike much of the rest of the Kalahari the CKGR has no permanent surface water and this constrained human settlement and mobility patterns. During the brief wet seasons G/wi and G//ana congregated at the shallow pans that brimmed with water following spectacular thunderstorms. The long dry seasons were an altogether different story. [...] The relatively large groups of people that congregated at the pans broke up into much smaller kin-based units and dispersed into the bush so that they could exploit available resources as efficiently as possible. [...] When Silberbauer sank a borehole at Xade for his own use in 1961, he inadvertently set the ball of change rolling. The year-round availability of water in Xade enticed many G/wi from their dry season camps thus inverting a seasonal aggregation and dispersal pattern that had persevered as long as anyone could remember. It also gave them a taste for the spoils of modernity. [Pg. 1]

[...] Even during the 1960s increasing numbers of CKGR San were drifting to the Ghanzi ranches and Tswana cattle-posts in Kweneng where they entered labour relationships, often exploitative, with Tswana and white farmers. [Pg. 2]

[...] With easy water Xade’s population grew rapidly. By 1980 it was a permanent settlement and two years later the Government built a school and a health centre there. Game avoided the area, veldfoods were over-utilised and the people grew increasingly reliant on state aid. Residents of Xade also realised that with permanent water they could keep livestock. As other water-points were established during the 1980s the residents of the CKGR brought more goats, donkeys, dogs and horses into the reserve. Horses and dogs were particularly prized since they radically increased hunting efficiency and range. The anthropologist Masakazu Osaki (1984:53) reported that during his stay in Xade between September and February in 1982/3, of the 91 large ungulates killed by hunters only one of these was brought down by traditional bow and arrow. Likewise, year-round access to potable water allowed the Xade population to experiment with cultivation. With support from agricultural extension services some managed small harvests of sorghum, maize meal and cow peas. By 1985, it was reported that almost all G/wi planted gardens. [Pg. 2]

[...] Between 1965 and 1996 the population in the CKGR fluctuated by as much as 41% between wet and dry seasons. Many who left the CKGR during dry seasons did so to take up work on the Ghanzi cattle ranches or for Tswana households in areas adjacent to the reserve. Some were seduced by the spoils of cattle-post life and remained while others returned to the CKGR for the rainy seasons. [Pg. 2]

[...] Although the residents of the CKGR complained about the restrictions imposed on hunting and the sometimes-harsh enforcement practices adopted by over-zealous wildlife officials, they still maintained their mixed economy of hunting, gathering, cultivation and herding. [Pg. 3] (source)
In the paper, Suzman is very critical of Survival International, the organization that has been championing the G/wi and G//ana's right to the CKGR. Stephen Corry, the head of the organization, responded to Suzman's paper in this volume of the journal Before Farming (scroll down to find the PDF).

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Note: New Xade is the settlement outside the CKGR that was founded by the government.