Great concern in the Moremi game reserve in the Okavango Delta in Botswana:
Between 11-14 November, IPACC conducted a short mission to the Okavango Delta at the request of member organisation ToCADI and the San (Basarwa) communities. The indigenous peoples who reside in the Moremi Park had raised a matter of great concern and asked for urgent support from IPACC.
At the heart of the Okavango lies the Moremi game reserve, an area of approximately 5000 square kilometres. Named after Chief Moremi III of the BaTawana tribe, the area was declared a reserve in 1963, and further expanded in 1970. As part of this designation, it was further declared that the San/Basarwa groups who’ve lived there for millennia could continue to do so.
However, it has come to the attention of the indigenous communities residing in the area that an application has been lodged with the Tawana Land Board for Moremi reserve to be declared as the territory of the Tawana chieftancy.
Moremi is the only protected area in the Delta, and is one of Botswana’s most popular and lucrative tourist destinations, which offers safari tours and luxury lodges, promise tourists an idyllic African experience surrounded by a rich diversity of animal and plant life. Wildlife species include iconic large mammals such as elephant, rhinoceros, leopard and hippopotami. The Delta’s inscription as a World Heritage Site has elevated the area to one of global significance and can provide valuable livelihood opportunities for indigenous peoples of the area.
The proposal for World Heritage listing was strongly backed IPACC and by the indigenous inhabitants (Bugakhwe, //Anikhwe and Ts’exa) living in and around the delta, who have conserved the area for millennia delta.
In addition, anthropological research, including oral testimonies from San elders and other ethnic groups in the area, confirm that the earliest inhabitants of these territories are the San peoples, and that the Bantu groups such as the Hambukushu, the Wayei, the Dxeriku and the BaTawana came at a later date. Tragically in spite of this widespread recognition, there has been consistent and systematic marginalisation and often violent eviction of the various San groups from their ancestral lands.
ToCADI and the Khwedom Council convened consultations in Maun, Khwai and Gwedigu with elders from the area in order to inform the communities of these developments, and to collect their testimonies, which will form part of the evidence to support the objections of the communities.
This case raises many important issues for IPACC, its members and the communities it represents. Fundamentally, the Moremi case is about redress and reparations for historical injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples as well as the current challenges facing the San.
IPACC will continue to monitor the progress of this matter, and will provide the necessary resources and support to its members to engage with the Botswana authorities so as to resolve this issue in a just and equitable manner.