Jan 11, 2020
category: History

The Bushmen (politically correct name “San”) are one of the most ancient populations not only in Africa, but also on the entire planet. The age of their existence amounts to about 20,000 years. Historically, they live in small family groups, never caring about riches and personal possessions and sharing everything among each other. Their simple daily living was maintained by hunting and gathering. However, it was quite uneasy to survive in the conditions of desert and semi-desert environment (Woodburn, 1982). With the advent of the modern civilization, things have changed, but the benefits of these changes are doubtful and disputable. Nowadays, most San Bushmen are scattered over many countries of Southern Africa far from their original area of living. Most of Bushmen moved to resettlement camps built by government, and many of them argue that they were forced to move. Today, there are estimated about 100,000 Bushmen, mostly living in Namibia, Botswana, SAR, and Zambia. Although the term “Bushmen” is considered as offensive, this group of people prefers to be called “Bushmen” (Fihlani, 2014).

Modern civilization lifestyle is not what the Bushmen people gladly accept. For example, Botswana Bushmen have been in contradictions with country’s government for long years concerning their right to live within the game park and continue their usual lifestyle as hunters and gatherers. In addition, they were denied access to water within the reserve. The amount of their boreholes was limited, and they were prohibited to drill more. However, in 2011, the Botswana Appeals Court decided to allow Bushmen access to water, but this order, and similarly many other court orders, is actually ignored by officials. Bushmen are required to have the permits for entering the reserve and are not allowed to hunt (those found hunting are arrested) (Fihlani, 2014).

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What is the reason of the Bushmen relocation from their original area? According to the government’s statement, the restriction of people on that area is necessary for preserving the wildlife and ecosystems of the vast reserve. However, the groups on human rights and the Bushmen suppose that the actual reason is far from what is officially stated.

Mining is one of Botswana’s strategic industries, and the diamond mining is the main source of revenues. The area where the Bushmen traditionally lived is situated in the center of one of the richest diamond fields in the world. Therefore, the Busmen were relocated in order to remove the obstacle for the realization of a great multibillion dollar mining project (Gowdy, 2011). Nevertheless, the government has always denied the presence of the link between the above mentioned relocations and the diamond deposits, which were first discovered in the 1980s.

In order to create comfortable living conditions, the government provided such modern-life amenities as clinics, schools and houses in fenced-up yards for the Bushmen. Yet, the modern life is not suitable for everybody. There are high rates of unemployment, as the people of this community do not have any skills and experience which they could use in the modern world. There is an acute problem of alcoholism, especially among the young men. Although after the relocation, each family received five cattle of goats as a motivation to become farmers, but there is a range of challenges for being pastoralists. People who are suddenly pushed to the unusual kind of unknown lifestyle will definitely face a lot of difficulties. For example, Bushmen have never been taught how to look after the cows and goats when they get sick, and they have no idea how important it is to care after them in order to prevent them from diseases. Modern life has not worked for Bushmen and did not improve their lives.

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There are still a lot of people who go inside the park and hunt even when they get arrested and receive the court penalties for hunting. It proves that anything can force people to change. However, if the Busmen want to survive in the conditions they found themselves in, they really need to adapt. Botswana officials state that Bushmen’s lifestyle does not respond to the requirements of civilized society and call them “Stone-Age” people who should be pulled into the contemporary conditions. That is a great dilemma because it is almost impossible for the Bushmen to adapt to the new life conditions. People who have been spending their lives roaming the land freely, hunting and gathering plants for food during several millennia cannot immediately adapt to the conditions, offering them no chances to live off the land as they used to. However, the inability of the Bushmen to adapt to new conditions is considered by the governments as laziness. The Bushmen are treated like dogs by the authorities. As it is stated by Fihlani (2014), “The dog is the only thing that can’t bring its own food home. It has to wait for its owner to give it some food”.

The authorities also state that in accordance with scientifically based research, several wildlife species are in decline due to Busmen’s hunting and commitment to their traditional way of living. They are intended to teach Bushmen “non-consumptive” ways to use the resources. However, the Bushmen argue that their living proves that their deeds have always been ecologically sustainable and harmless (Pfaffe, 2003).

International groups on human rights also are concerned by a grand flow of tourists to the areas where the Bushmen live and call for a boycott of tourism industry in order to stop persecuting the Bushmen. Yet, the tourism is the second largest contributor into Botswana’s budget, thus, it will be uneasy to reduce the amount of tourists. They also state that the authorities exploit their traditional culture for the attraction of the tourists, but beyond the borders of touristic villages, the Bushmen’s culture is under considerable pressure of the modern civilization. The Busmen are concerned that “there will be no-one who would be able to practice the Bushman culture unless they are parading in front of tourist for companies who are using them for business” (Fihlani, 2014).

Today, the Bushmen suffer from commonly spread perception that their culture and lifestyle are ‘primitive’ and from the authorities’ pressure that the Busmen should live similarly to the majority cattle-herding tribes. Specific problems are also varying in accordance with where they exactly live. In SAR, for example, most of the Busmen’s land rights are recognized nowadays, but many other Bushmen tribes do not have any land rights at all. Only very small amount of modern Bushmen are able and allowed to continue their traditional life as hunter-gatherers, and most of them who are forced to accept the lifestyle of the modern civilization, are at the lowest stage of the social scale, living in unacceptable conditions of utmost poverty and unemployment which lead to the increased rates of alcoholism, violence, prostitution, diseases and despair.

The westernized myths about the Bushmen have caused considerable damage to this population. They consider the Bushmen as simple, childlike people who do not experience any problems. However, due to their absorption and pressure by modern civilization, their final extinction may occur, and the Bushmen are likely to cease to exist as a separate people with autochthonic and unique culture in the nearest future. Unfortunately, their modernization may lead to the situation that soon they can only be seen in museums (Siyabona Africa, n.d.).

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