The Kalahari Bushmen tribe is taking Botswana's government to court to reaffirm a previous ruling that granted the tribe legal rights to its ancestral land.
According to international advocacy group Survival International, Botswana's government has been denying the Bushmen the right to return to their land despite a landmark decision in 2006 that reversed the eviction of around 1,000 tribesmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Botswana is arguing that the verdict only applies to the 186 individuals named in the original case, requiring others to obtain permits that grant access to the territory for up to one month.
"The government is continuing to defy Botswana's highest court and its constitution, for no apparent purpose," Survival International director Stephen Corry said in a press release.
This latest case will be the third time the Bushmen have taken legal action against the government in the land dispute. The ruling five years ago came after a 2002 raid in which the army forced the tribe out of the area at gunpoint and cut off its water supply, the Guardian reported at the time.
In addition, Survival International reported in December that the government was refusing to give the tribe hunting permits to hunt on the land. The organization also accused paramilitary police of severely beating two Bushmen for killing an antelope in December and arresting three children for carrying antelope meat in January.
Often referred to as the First People, the Bushmen have lived in southern Africa for more than 20,000 years, and scientists believe they are the first modern humans from which all other peoples evolved. Battles over the Bushmen's land began in 1997, when Botswana started forceably removing the community from the area. According to National Geographic, the government claimed at the time that it wanted to ensure the CKGR's integrity as a nature reserve, while integrating the tribesmen into the country's social and economic life.
But Survival International says that the real motivation behind the government's dispute with the Bushmen is the presence of diamond mines across the CKGR, as well as the country's lucrative tourism industry, largely based on nature tours and safaris. Botswana politician Kitso Mokaila dismissed such accusations as "propaganda," telling the BBC in 2010 that his country was only driven by the desire to modernize a population he saw as "living in the dark ages."
Regardless, the tribe seems to prefer "living in the dark ages" to living nowhere at all. As one Bushman told Survival International recently, the government's attempt to block the evicted community from returning to its rightful land "makes me feel homeless. ... I want to be at my own home and not have to depend on someone else's permission to be there."