Botswana Bushmen told to shape up January 23, 2007Posted by Andreas in News, Society, Southern Africa, Sustainable Living.
Festus Mogae, the President of Botswana, recently told a small gathering of Basarwa Bushmen that they should give up their ancient hunting and gathering lifestyle and adopt modern ways (I came across his comments in Die Burger and haven’t managed to find his actual speech in English anywhere).
A little historical reflection reveals the considerable arrogance of Mogae’s comments.
He was speaking to members of a community that has just won the right to return to their ancestral homeland in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve from which some 3000 of them were illegally evicted between 1997 and 2002.
Since that time the Basarwa have survived in the squalor of crowded and isolated resettlement camps where poverty, Aids, joblessness, alcoholism and dependency on aid and government handouts were the order of the day.
On the eve of their long-awaited return home (the court case granting their right to return was the longest running case in Botswana history), Mogae decided to tell a people whose ancestors have lived in the area for hundreds of years, literally since “pre-historic” times, and have done so under harsh conditions without degrading their environment, to give up the very knowledge that enabled them to do so in the first place.
At a time when the very foundations of modern western civilisation are under threat from Global Warming, resource depletion and environmental destruction on a massive scale, Mogae was telling the only people who have managed to live in the Kalahari in a truly sustainable fashion to forget their ancient wisdom and technologies.
That’s what I mean by arrogance. Of course his pleas for the Basarwa not to return to their homes and traditions are in effect genocidal as well.
Should we really be surprised, though? Mogae is, after all, merely repeating what the “civilised” have told the “primitive” wherever and whenever they have encountered them. The inevitable consequences of Mogae’s and civilisation’s attitude are of course entirely predictable.
Just as the “civilised” are decimating biodiversity around the world through mono-crop industrial agriculture, habitat destruction and genetic engineering, so they are wiping out cultural diversity by “encouraging” – no forcing and black-mailing – indigenous people to get with the program of ProgressTM and abandon their old ways of life.
Just as the annihilation of biodiversity is lethal to whole ecosystems and ultimately life on Earth, this cultural colonialism will deprive all of us of the immeasurable knowledge of how to survive on an increasingly inhospitable planet.
Let’s just leave the Basarwa alone. In fact let’s do all we can to help them recover their way of life on their own terms and hope they haven’t given up on the rest of us yet – I have a sneaking suspicion that we will need their help sooner rather than later!