The Kalahari Bushmen have appealed to the Pope to support them in their struggle to return to their land, as the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Botswana earlier this month.
A Bushman spokesman said today, ‘We beg the Pope to help, to pray for us so that the government changes its attitude towards us and respects our rights as indigenous peoples of this land.’
The establishment of diplomatic relations was initiated by Botswana’s former president Festus Mogae. He was the architect of the government’s controversial policy to forcibly evict the Bushmen from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Despite Botswana’s High Court having affirmed the Bushmen’s rights to live in the reserve in 2006, the government of the new president General Ian Khama continues to violate their rights. It has also given the company Gem Diamonds permission to mine diamonds on their land.
Not one Bushman has received a hunting permit, despite the High Court ruling that it was unlawful for the government to withhold permits. Nor are the Bushmen allowed to access the water borehole on their land. The lack of hunting and water has made life extremely difficult for the Bushmen.
Dom Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu, Brazil, said today, ‘In the 21st century it is more vital than ever that the Catholic Church support indigenous peoples throughout the world in the struggle for their rights.’
On 1 July, the Pope Benedict XVI expressed his solidarity and support for the indigenous peoples of Raposa-Serra do Sol in Brazil when he met them in the Vatican and declared ‘We will do everything possible to help protect your land.’
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