They have been called derogatory names such as Bushmen, Basarwa or the San people of the Kalahari, since time immemorial because of their lifestyle. They were forced out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the land of their forefathers and resettled where they don’t belong. Those who chose to remain in the CKGR where they belong are being deprived of basic needs such as access to water while some of those who threw in the towel and moved out are finding it hard to adapt to the new environment. Such is their struggle to lead their normal life. It is these struggles and the hard times that Basarwa have been through that resulted in the book, Tears for my land, a recount of the trials and tribulations of Basarwa as seen and experienced by one of their own, Kuela Kiema. He talks to Sinqobile Ndlovu-Tessa.
Q. To begin with which name or term should I use when referring to you and your people?
I am a Kua and so are the people of my tribe. We are not San, Basarwa or Bushmen. These are the demeaning names we have been given as people from the CKGR. These maybe suitable to those who use them but we don’t want to be called such because these words are used by the oppressors to take away what belongs to us, our land and pride. For your own information Basarwa originally meant ba sa rua meaning those with nothing, no land, no human dignity, no culture, no rights, no identity, no culture, no language in fact nothing at all. But anyway I will allow you to use these names because that is what people are used to.
Q. You were one of the people who were in the forefront of relocating from the CKGR in 1997, can you tell us why?
We had been fighting with the government for a long time as they were forcing out to move but were resisting. The government then came up with laws banning us from hunting which also meant that were not supposed to even kill the animals which were a threat to our lives and the livestock. We then began losing our livestock in large numbers to predators and all we were supposed to do was just fold our hands and watch because if we killed the lions or whatever animal was killing our livestock we would be thrown into prison. So in the end we threw in the towel to save the little goats, horses and donkeys that we had left and moved to where the government wanted us to be, which is the present day New Xade.
Q. Roughly how many people moved to New Xade?
We are talking of at least 2 000 people who left the lands of their forefathers, lands which they were supposed to pass on their children and future generations.
Q. What reasons were you given by the government to move out of the CKGR and what’s your take on those reasons?
The government claimed that it wanted to take us away from our primitive hunting and gathering life and give us the modern life but the truth of the matter is that there was nothing primitive about our land and our lifestyle. Tc’amnqoo (the native name of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve) is not a primitive place. (Quoting from his book) It is the chief source of the economic, social and cultural development of its people. It is a resource rich land, far from being a place of primitivism. Tc’amnqoo must remain as the foundation of our development and it should be us, who reap the rewards of our ancestors.
Q. It’s been 13 years since you moved, how does it feel now?
I am still bitter and so is everyone. I don’t think there is anything as painful as losing our land, Tc’amnqoo. It was and still is our identity, without our land we are not real people and without us, our land is barren. We long for the day we will together with our children are allowed to go back so we can be united with the land of fathers because our history is preserved in those lands.
Q. How is the quality of life in New Xade?
It is pathetic to say the least because people were taken away from the life that they were used to, a life where they were not dependant on anyone for survival to a life where they now have to wait for the government to provide. Without these hand outs, there will be no food yet in the CKGR we knew that the lands of the ancestors provided us for. When the government moved us out they said the move was meant to give us a better life in terms of social services but we are yet to see that. People still don’t have access to information; they don’t know what is happening around them because of poor to virtually non-existence of radio services. Most of our young people don’t know about government programmes that might benefit them simple because there is no medium of communication.
Q. Some believe that you cannot win your fight against the government because you are not talking with one voice.
We might differ here and there as Basarwa but the bottom line is that we are one people with one common cause and I believe our differences will soon be a thing of the past.
Q. Can you tell us more about those differences, where did they emanate from?
It all started when I mobilized people to move out of CKGR and it got worse when those people actually moved in 1997 to New Xade. I was seen by other Basarwa especially those who chose to remain then as a sellout and a coward. That’s where the divisions came from, those who moved to New Xade and those who remained and later took the government to court.
Q. What motivated you to write the book?
I did not sit down to say am writing a book, I used to write notes of what I knew, had experienced, had seen and heard about my people. But the inspiration to combine these notes into a book came about when I was studying at the University of Namibia in 2004. One of our lecturers gave us a few chapters from a book called Custer Died For Your Sins by Vine Deloria Jr an American Indian. The native Americans seemed to have experienced the same thing that we the Kua had been going through and then I thought if their experiences were documented why shouldn’t I document my experiences.
Q. In a nutshell what is the book all about?
The book is telling the story of the Kua or the San as you people want to call us, the treatment that we were subjected to over the years, from teachers, other students and the government. As someone who observed and experienced this plight I wanted to tell the world the type of humiliation that we went through because we were or are perceived to be different from the rest of Batswana. I wanted to tell the world the real story of the CKGR and to give first hand information instead of hearsay that people are used to. I have not exaggerated anything but have instead toned down on some of the humiliating experiences (such as the measuring of their private parts by one of the teachers in the CKGR).
Q. Already, there are reactions to the book. For example, Sidney Pilane has denied ordering the assault of Roy Sesana as you wrote in the book.
Try as he may, deep down he knows that’s exactly what he did. I have nothing against him and had no reason to write any lies in my book accusing him of doing something that he did not do. Anyway for me it’s good publicity for the book. If he’s going to be denying it and papers writing about it then that good because it means more readers of the book.
Q. Lastly what is your dream in as far as the struggle of the CKGR is concerned?
My dream is for the Kua people to be allowed to go back to their land and live like before just like our forefathers did. Other tribes were not forced out of their tribal lands so why should we? We are a people; a tribe in our own right and thus should be left alone like Bangwato, Bakwena, Bakgatla, Bangwaketse and other tribes. Tc’amnqoo is our land and one day we, or our children, will have the freedom to enter the land of their fathers as freely as before.
(Quoting from the book)
We want to the re-introduction of the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and have support from the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA). We want development not poverty, we want self-reliance not handouts, and we want jobs. We want to convert our traditional skills of hunting, animal myth, gathering, herbs, music, healing and other ways to make money from international tourists.
Full names: Kuela Kiema
Date of birth: Not sure but somewhere between 1966 and 1969.
Place of birth: CKGR
Marital status: Married
Academic qualifications: BA in Sociology and Music
Current employer: Kuru Development Trust (Ghanzi)
Favourite food: Game meat