The Veiled Truth Kalahari Bushmen

Kalahari BushmanIn the figurative shadow of Table Mountain, nestled in the basin that contains Cape Town, sat my home away from home. The small hostel painted in bright orange, depicting intermingled faces of the Big Five, screamed with the vibrancy and joy of the African continent, post apartheid.

As the sun beat down it dispersed the last vestiges of a “quickly being forgotten” U.S. winter. An idea, like so many others that bore fruit and became life-long memories, began forming in my mind.  Almost due north lay the open wilderness of a fabled and expansive land. An area so mystical, exotic, and controversial that to be so close and not experience it for myself would be a travelers crime, an opportunity lost, and the potential seed for regret.

Plans were made on the spot and within 24 hours I found myself in the company of Jorick, Axel, and Kai, three non-English speaking Germans; all of us excitedly heading in the direction of the great Kalahari; home of the San people, the Kalahari Bushmen. 

The Kalahari is a large semi-arid sandy desert that extends approx. 350,000 square miles covering parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It contains huge tracts of grazing land that appear following every rainy season. This in turn supports more animals and plants than any other desert. Just the fact that the Kalahari receives consistent annual rainfall makes it an unusual desert ecosystem.

The Kalahari is home to migratory birds and a haven for wild animals including the Big Five; Lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephants, and the vengeful Cape Buffalo.  Everything else from Giraffes and Zebras to Baboons and Wildebeest have found sanctuary in the savanna of the Kalahari.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the San people.

In 1996, the DeBeers Company evaluated the land in Botswana, assessing its potential for precious gem mining; diamonds were discovered. In 1997, the eviction of the San People from their land began in earnest.

In three big clearances, in 1997, 2002 and 2005, virtually all the Bushmen were forced out. Their homes dismantled, school and health facilities closed, the water supply was destroyed, and the San were threatened then trucked away to resettlement camps.

In 2006, after a long legal battle, the Botswana High Court ruled that the eviction of the San People from their land was unlawful.  At the same time however, the government granted a permit to the De Beers Diamond Exploration Company allowing them to conduct mining activities within the reserve.

The court did not however, compel the government to provide services, like water, to any San upon their return. The government interpreted this ruling narrowly and did everything it could to make their return impossible, including cementing over the only water bore hole; without it, the Bushmen struggled to find enough water to survive.

At the same time as the San were prevented from accessing drinking water, a tourist camp, leased from the government, began operations. While Bushmen struggled to find enough water to survive, guests enjoyed the pristine wildlife reserve while poolside.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the San people gained legal right to access drinking water inside the reserve through existing bore holes. The presiding judge described the whole episode as ‘a harrowing story of human suffering and despair’.

In 2013 however, the evictions started again. This time the reason stated was to build an access corridor for wildlife. Once again the San took the government to court to prevent the forced evictions from ancestral homelands. Once again the government went ahead and began removing people and placing them in a resettlement camp called Bere.

To further add salt to the wound the attorney representing the San was placed on a visa list; effectively preventing him from entering the country until he obtained a visa.

Prior to this, the attorney Gordon Bennett had represented the San in court three times; suing the government with success on each occasion. He was now refused an entry visa. The Minister of Labor and Home Affairs, the Honorable Edwin Batshu, defended this move as being “in the interest of national security.”

Gem Diamonds, who bought the rights to mine from DeBeers, stated publicly that it contains a diamond deposit worth an estimated $4 billion.

It officially opened in September 2014.

None of this had happened yet as I made my way north to a desert I first read about years earlier. It was The Lost World of the Kalahari; Laurens van der Post’s 1950’s account of his travels in the area.

All I knew at this point was that a safari awaited and I was about to be a participant in one of the worlds great topographical wonders. The sun was blazing down, the sky was big and blue, and tragedy, although in the making, hung unknown like the proverbial second shoe.

Photos provided by Survival International.

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22 thoughts on “The Veiled Truth Kalahari Bushmen

  1. We often forget how lucky we are that we can just go over to the sink and get a glass of water. There are so many people in the world who don’t have time for big dreams because they are denied the basic that are needed for survival. I had never heard of the San people and their struggles. What a difficult and heartbreaking story.

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  2. I read stories like this and I wonder if they’re the tip of the heartbreaking news iceberg. With DuPont and Monsanto I thought ,”My God, how can this be allowed happen “? I read endless quotes and quips from huge cooperate leaders about “engagement and respect”, this sickens me.

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  3. Love learning, Tim, even when the story is sad. Great photographs to go along with this blog. The impact of greed by a few at the cost to the many always strikes me like a slap to the face. You’d think I’d be used to it. Hope I never get that calloused.

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  4. Such a sad story and worse yet no where near an isolated event. The world is filled with a history of the mistreatment of Indigenous people and there are precious few accounts of justice being served. Thanks so much for sharing Tim – look forward to reading more!

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  5. What a horrible story. Canada has its own disgraceful history about the treatment of aboriginal peoples. I didn’t realize forced resettlement like this still occurs. All so the rich can wear diamonds and see wildlife!

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  6. We are loosing the people who have habituated regions of the world for thousands of years. Even those who have survived the exploration of Europeans now are becoming nonexistence. We all give praise when we say the world has gotten smaller, but unfortunately, we push some off it because it is smaller.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This story goes deeper than even what most people think of when we hear the term “blood diamonds”. So sad and confusing to me. And on a different but related note, I love your phrase “Potential seed for regret.” We should all be so mindful of those moments in our lives. Thanks for educating me once again about something I had no idea about!

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  8. Tim — every time I say to myself, “woe is me” over some trivial thing, I think of all the people suffering in the world and I’m thankful that I was born in my great country with all its bounty. It’s sad to read of all the immigrants fleeing African nations who are dying in capsized ships as they try to flee from violence and poverty for a better life.

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    1. I do the same thing Jeannette. Being born in one hemisphere over another is certainly the luck of the draw and something we should always take into consideration when we are feeling a bit blue.

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  9. Thanks for sharing the truth, disturbing though it is. As tourists we so often focus on our own end game, such as an amazing safari, without giving thought, or perhaps without realising what cost our pleasure really has behind the scenes.

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    1. I was pretty shocked when I was researching this and then the original story became over-shadowed by this, much more important, one. You are right, we often do focus on our own personal end game and I am sure a version of this injustice happens in many places around the world.

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  10. Wow! What an awful story! It’s amazing that you were actually able to enjoy the area before any of this happened. Talk about a terrible injustice. The contrast between the San people struggling to get water while others are enjoying it poolside really sums up the totally skewed priorities. A really interesting read. Thanks so much Tim.

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    1. As I began researching this story I was shocked to learn just how bad things had gotten. It is an important part of the story and I thank you for reading and sharing it.

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  11. This is some story Tim, and one that I am completely unfamiliar with! Obviously, the Kalahari Bushmen deserve justice! The human suffering and despair, as the judge so aptly stated, can never be erased! How amazing that you were there before this happened. I can only imagine how this makes you feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a constant source of bewilderment how many of these kinds of scenarios there are in the world. Greed over decency is a constant theme. I read somewhere once that if the human existence could be placed on a timeline, it would be a teenager; not nearly as evolved as we may like to think.

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