Focus: Policy and Politics - Charity clashes with MPs on Bushmen

Nathalie Thomas

Survival International is under fire for criticising Botswana government.

Survival International is at loggerheads with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Botswana after its chair criticised the charity's work defending Kalahari Bushmen in the African state.

Malcolm Moss MP, the shadow minister for culture, media and sport, has refuted many of Survival International's claims about the treatment of Gana and Gwi Bushmen at the hands of the Botswana government.

The charity says Bushmen have been forced off their traditional lands in the Kalahari desert, and that those who have resisted have been subjected to torture and routine harassment.

After visiting Botswana in April, Moss defended the government's actions and publicly questioned the charity's campaigning tactics. "I don't think it is always as open and clear-minded as perhaps it ought to be," he later told Third Sector.

Moss led a delegation of MPs and peers on a visit to an area where Bushmen have been resettled from their previous dwellings in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The visit was funded by the Botswana High Commission in London.

Survival International claims Moss and the other parliamentarians, including Labour MP Vera Baird and Lib Dem peer Lord Steel, "bought the Botswana government's PR exercise hook, line and sinker".

A spokeswoman for the charity, which is assisting a group of 243 Bushmen who are fighting in court for the right to return to their traditional lands, questioned their judgement on the grounds that it was formed after a brief visit to resettlement camps.

"What the MPs are saying is wrong," said Soloman Phetolo, one of the Gana Bushmen working with the charity. "We just want to be allowed to live on our land, and we want the government to stop harassing us."

Survival International has also accused the all-party group of having dubious links to the Botswana government and diamond firm De Beers, which the charity says is prospecting for diamonds on the Bushmen's lands.

Moss has denied there is any such relationship, however. The all-party group has admitted receiving administrative assistance from the Botswana High Commission in London, but it refutes the suggestion that it was set up by Hill and Knowlton, a PR firm that Survival International says was hired to act on behalf of De Beers and the Botswana government.

"This isn't true," said Moss. "De Beers has nothing to do with it." He added that, during his visits to Botswana and the Bushmen's settlements, he had seen little evidence of ill-treatment.

"I've been there twice now," he said. "And in my opinion the government is doing a pretty good job by these people."

The all-party parliamentary group has, however, offered an olive branch to Survival International. Moss said he would be happy for charity representatives to meet the group and discuss the issues further.

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