The government of Botswana has refused to grant a visa to the Basarwa lawyer, Advocate Gordon Bennett because the latter is not bringing anything beneficial to the country, Botswana Guardian has learnt.
The latest move has been branded ‘vindictive and repressive’, Survival International. In an interview with Botswana Guardian on Thursday, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Ikwatlhaeng Bagopi confirmed that Bennett’s visa application was turned down. “That man has no reason to be in Botswana. We are keeping our country’s interests first and Bennett is not bringing anything beneficial to us as a country,” Bagopi said.
By the time of the interview Bagopi said they were yet to furnish Bennnett with full reasons why his visa was denied but could not discuss them in detail with this publication. “If I go into further detail I will be informing you before the actual applicant and I cannot do that; but what I can say is that Bennett’s legal skills are not scares. There are many lawyers accessible in Botswana so Basarwa have a choice of using any other lawyer in the country. Why should they take someone from that far?”
When questioned if Bennett did something “beneficial to our country” at times when he entered Botswana freely without visa requirements, Bagopi said “before his visa listing we never dealt with him as a ministry so I cannot go into issues prior to visa requirements.”
The spokesperson of the First People of Kgalagadi, a group advocating for Basarwa’s rights, Jumanda Gakelebone said they had sensed that government wanted to block their success in the CKGR case. “We knew they would not give him the visa, just to punish us. It is not about him, it’s about the government discriminating against Basarwa and stepping on their rights.”
Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said in a statement, ‘this is yet another calculated move by President Khama to thwart the Bushmen’s access to justice. It’s ironic that Botswana is still thought to be ‘transparent’ and ‘democratic’ when its government has spent years trying to destroy its original peoples. Now, after their successes in court, Bushmen are not even allowed their lawyer. This is a vindictive and repressive step.’ Efforts to get a comment from Duma Boko and Company were futile as Boko’s mobile rang unanswered. The law firm is the one that involved Bennett in handling the case.
Bennett who was supposed to represent Basarwa on their case against government next at Gaborone High Court but the Briton’s visa application was on Thursday turned down by government. He was listed as one of the Britons who need a visa to enter Botswana just a week after he successfully represented Basarwa who did not want to be relocated by government from Ranyane, a small settlement close to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Normally British people are not required to have a visa to enter Botswana. It was the third time Bennett had won a victory for Bushmen clients: in the first, in 2006, the Bushmen won the right to return to their ancestral land; in the second, in 2011, they won the right to drill their own water boreholes after the government attempted to stop them doing so.
Bennett had applied for the visa on time but it was denied at the last minute, three days before the landmark court case in which Basarwa who won the 2006 CKGR relocation case against government are now demanding that their children be allowed to reside inside the CKGR. Government had said that only Basarwa listed as applicants in the 2006 case could access the CKGR.