In a land where Basarwa are treated like second hand citizens, tossed and ordered about, Advocate Gordon Bennet is seen as something of a “Saviour.”
In 2006 he successfully defended Basarwa against government forced relocation from their ancestral land in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve. He was back again this week at the invitation of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights to fight on the corner of 71 Basarwa residents of Ranyane who are against being relocated to Bere. Ranyane is 200 km south of Ghanzi and is home to about 600 Basarwa. Xharae Phuti had wanted to express his gratitude to the British Advocate, after Justice Lot Moroka’s watershed ruling this week Tuesday in Lobatse. But because of the language barrier, Phuti, who fancies himself the leader of the group, could only shake hands and smile. He called the Advocate “our white saviour,” in a land where “our own fathers want to oppress and move us from our forefathers’ land.” Phuti wears a colourful shirt and a tie, but that is just about how much of civilisation he is interested in. Since May this year the government has been on a drive to relocate the Basarwa from Ranyane to Bere, Chobokwane and New Xanagas.
Sitting silently in the court clad in traditional attire with some of the women spotting traditional ‘letsoku’ make up, the Ranyane residents listened carefully as though they understood the alien language spoken in the court. They remained seated still as though to guard against anything that may tamper with their hopes to win the case, even when court had gone on recess. The applicants say they were told that they would be relocated because they live in a Wildlife Management Area and their continued presence in Ranyane will interfere with the movement of wild animals between CKGR and the Trans-Frontier Park.
However the Botswana government spokesperson Dr Jeff Ramsay has contended that the families are relocating on a voluntary basis because Bere, Chobokwane and New Xanagas have government schools, health facilities and access to potable water, which Ranyane does not have.
But Ranyane residents could not care less about being closer to clinics, schools and water. “We have survived all these years just like our forefathers and relocating us is killing our culture and dignity. Our ancestors should find us where they left us in Ranyane,” explained Khumo Kwere who also complained that being a Mosarwa has become a “curse because we are tossed around as if we are aliens in this country when other tribes are not being treated like that.” Justice Moroka’s ruling has brought back hope to the residents.
They broke into dance and song immediately after he barred government from entering any household compound occupied by the Ranyane San “without their express consent.” He also ruled that the authorities will not remove the engine that currently operates the borehole in Ranyane without 14 days prior written notice to the community’s attorneys; and that no one shall be removed from Ranyane less than 48 hours after the authorities have informed the community’s lawyers by telephone of their proposed removal. Advocate Bennet also seemed as though he had a lot to say to his clients but could not as he kept saying, “thank you, and thank you”.
Mmakgomo Ditlhare also came all the way from Ranyane courtesy of Ditshwanelo Centre for Human Rights to hear the case.
“We had to win, we have been living peacefully in our ancestral land until government decided we do not deserve our land and culture. We have never troubled anyone in this country and we hope to be left alone and go back home. Beside if government wants to bring us civilisation, they should bring resources to us and not the other way round.”