On Friday, we as a group of 26 International Development students, or INDEVOURS as we have been affectionately termed, hosted a most esteemed guest speaker – Roy Sesana. Roy originates from New Xade in the central Kalahari of Botswana and works as a traditional medicine man within his San community. In 1991 he co-founded the First People of the Kalahari (FPK) as a means of promoting and protecting the traditional lifestyle of the San.
Under Roy’s guidance the Bushmen and sympathetic supporters have been involved in protecting the rights of these indigenous populations for more than a decade. After the resettlement of a group of Bushmen living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in 1997 to government allocated resettlement camps a legal case unfolded within the courts of Botswana. This landmark case in 2002 saw the First People of the Kalahari taking the Government of Botswana to court to seek the right to return to their ancestral lands on the reserve. Roy was arrested in September 2005 for rioting and attempting to forcibly enter the CKGR but was released within a few days. After years of efforts to persuade the courts to review the case the High Court of Botswana ruled in the Bushmen’s favour on December 13, 2006, stating that the evictions were unlawful and unconstitutional.
Yet the San of the Kalahari have been unable to return to their homes. The government of Botswana claims that they are unable to provide the groups of Bushmen with basic infrastructure and services while they are within the reserve because it will conflict with the preservation of the game reserve itself. Complicating the issue is the way of life the San have been forced to adapt to within the resettlement camps. Unemployment, alcoholism, diseases (especially HIV/AIDS) and other social ills have for the first time in the Bushmen’s history become widespread issues for the San living in these camps.
Roy Sesana, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award for “resolute resistance against eviction from their ancestral lands, and for upholding the right to their traditional way of life” spoke with the type of passion one could only expect from a man who has travelled a great distance to champion the plight of his people. He congratulated us on our commitment to international development and for being so open and willing to listen and extend our hearts to stories such as those of his people. He further called us to take action in our own communities to make these stories known; to support FPK and to write to our members of parliament expressing outrage over the mistreatment of the San people.
While this story does appear to come from a world away, it draws many parallels to our own experiences here in Canada. It has not been too many years for us to forget about our own treatment of indigenous populations within these borders and the many social and political issues which persist to this day. While it is important to recognize what is going on within the international community, and inviting people like Roy Sesana to engage us in a dialogue, is an important way to go about doing this I do think it is just as important for us to continue that dialogue once his plan touches down in Maun once again. If there is one thing we can take away from Roy’s talk it is the importance in not becoming apathetic to issues which may not directly impact our daily lives. The Bushmen are a proud, however small, minority within Botswana. Yet Roy Sesana has made it his life’s work to make sure the world knows their story. What would our world look like if more people like Roy made such sacrifices for the betterment of their neighbours? How would our own cultural landscape here in Canada be altered if we made similar efforts to champion those peoples who make up our past, present, and hopefully our future? Roy has opened our eyes, now it’s our turn to decide how we will respond – in typical apathetic Canadian fashion, or with a renewed sense of ownership?
|INDEVOURS 2012 with Roy Sesana|