Botswana: UN expert calls for renewed 'nation-building' to celebrate rich diversity

28 November 2014

Following an official visit to Botswana, the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights has called on the country to embark on a second phase of nation-building that reflects, builds on and celebrates its cultural diversity, stressing that issues relating to the recognition of communities as tribes must be addressed.

The Special Rapporteur, Farida Shaheed, said in a press release yesterday that during her 13-day visit to Botswana, she shared her observations on cultural rights issues – such as the recognition of tribes, language rights, land rights, and the need to involve and engage with communities affected by Government policies – and identified a number of good practices and potential obstacles relating to the promotion and protection of cultural rights in the country.

“Unlike the eight Tswana tribes who have a guaranteed seat in the House of Chiefs, other communities do not,” she said, expressing concern that the adjudication system based on the Kgosis (chiefs) often leads to the dominant tribe imposing its customary law on all groups in a particular tribal territory in civil matters.

The Special Rapporteur – who is mandated to monitor the enjoyment of cultural rights – also identified language diversity as a possible area for improvement.

“While the use of Setswana as the national language has enabled most people in the country to communicate with each other, mother tongue education in the first years of schooling is certainly a way forward,” she said.

“The risk of further disadvantage incurred upon children in remote areas who have no or minimal exposure to Setswana in their families and communities, in particular those residing in hostels without family support systems, is significant,” she added.

Ms. Shaheed also congratulated Botswana for its success in having the Okavango Delta included on the World Heritage List of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Specifically, she welcomed the Government for its consultative process prior to the listing, as well as for the recognition of the small numbers of people who have inhabited the Delta for centuries without any significant ecological impact.

“I have been assured by the Government that there will be no fencing off of the area, no eviction of local communities, and no disruption of their rights of access to natural resources,” she said. The Special Rapporteur hoped that such steps would help to establish good practices both in that area and in other parts of Botswana.

However, she stressed that in many of the places she visited, she heard the frustration, anger and fears expressed by community members, particularly of the San, Hambukushu and Wayeyi communities. Many of these feelings stem from a lack of clear information and communication about policy and future plans, especially with regard to human/wildlife conflicts, she emphasized.

“The legacy of past violations of human rights needs to be acknowledged and addressed if the authorities wish to engage in meaningful consultations with communities for future projects,” Ms. Shaheed said.

“The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has been at the centre of considerable controversy since the Government decided to relocate all people residing there to settlements outside the reserve,” Ms. Shaheed said.

Despite a court ruling confirming the right of the petitioners to return to the reserve, concerns remain regarding an overly restrictive interpretation of the ruling and the right of offspring to remain on the reserve upon attaining the age of majority at 18, Ms. Shaheed noted.

“I would like the Government to clarify the matter,” the expert said.

Ms. Shaheed also called for more alternative spaces for people, besides the traditional spaces offered by “kgotlas” governed by chiefs, to engage in sports and creative activities in both rural and urban centres.

“I welcome the increased number of cultural activities being promoted by the Government, through numerous festivals and competitions across the country,” she said. “I encourage the Government to expand its support to non-traditional forms of cultural expression and to consider the establishment of a national arts council for the promotion and further development of art and creative industries,” she added.

Ms. Shaheed visited Gaborone, Maun, Ghanzi/Dkar, Old Xade, New Xade, Shakawe and the Tsodilo Hills, as well as several villages in the Okavango Delta, and Ramotswa. She met with Government officials, chiefs, artists, academics and representatives of civil society.

The Special Rapporteur is scheduled present her assessment and recommendations in a report to the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015 in Geneva.

 

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