Roy Sesana / First People of the Kalahari

(2005, Botswana)

...for resolute resistance against eviction from their ancestral lands, and for upholding the right to their traditional way of life.

About

Roy Sesana is also known as Tobee Tcori - his Bushman name. He is a leader of the Gana, Gwi and Bakgalagadi 'Bushmen'. As such, he is one of their most eloquent spokespeople. He was born in a Bushman community, Molapo, in Botswana, at least 50 years ago - he doesn't know his precise age. He spent a few years as a labourer in South Africa before returning to the central Kalahari in 1971, to train as a traditional healer.

Contact Details

KGEIKANI KWENI
(First People of the Kalahari)
PO Box 173
Ghanzi
BOTSWANA

Further information:

Survival International
Stephen Corry, Director

Biography

The 4,000 Gana and Gwi were amongst the last Bushmen living on and from their own land in a largely self-sufficient way. In 1997 and 2002, after years of harassment, the Botswana government evicted them, along with their neighbours the Bakgalagadi, from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) despite international protests.

Officials closed their borehole, poured away their water, and threatened to burn them in their huts if they did not move. Some of those who stayed were tortured and accused of "overhunting". In 2004, Sesana's brother died after a beating by wildlife officials.

Even so, since 1992, more than 200 Bushmen have evaded the guards and returned to their lands. Most of the Bushmen are now in miserable resettlement camps, unable to hunt or gather and dependent on government hand-outs and support. It is thought that the evictions were motivated by the desire to mine diamonds on Bushmen lands. A number of concessions have already been granted.

Sesana is one of the founders of First People of the Kalahari (FPK), which was set up in 1991 to campaign for the Bushmen's human rights, and especially their land rights.

Sesana became chairman of FPK in 1995 and stayed in post until 2000 when he stepped down to concentrate on FPK's fieldwork in the Bushman communities.

FPK established itself as one of the most outspoken defenders of Bushman rights in Botswana, earning itself increasing levels of government surveillance.

Their telephones got tapped, their visitors monitored and they were publicly vilified by the government. FPK also helped provide legal support for the hunters who were arrested in 1999, and produced a report on the torture incident, as well as organising a mapping project of traditional territories and communities that succeeded in getting many of them registered as official residents in the reserve. Despite the combination of lack of funds and government repression, the organisation was successful in gaining wide international concern for the Bushmen's predicament.

After the 2002 evictions, and despite serious government intimidation, Sesana  carried on his work, trying to encourage his colleagues to leave the government camps, which he calls "places of death", and go home.

In Botwana's longest-running trial, the Bushmen took the Botswana government to court in a test case that soon became symbolic of the struggle of indigenous people everywhere. Sesana's central role in this legal action resulted in him being acknowledged as the unspoken leader of the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari.

In December 2006, after a four year long and extremely expensive trial, Botswana's High Court ruled in favour of the Bushmen. The judges found that the government had illegally tried to evict them from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. However, the High Court did not rule that the Government had to provide essential services to those living in the reserve. 

The Bushmen now face tough conditions imposed by officials when they try to move back to their ancestral lands.

By 2013, FPK had dissolved as an organisation, and Roy Sesana had gone back to the CKGR to live the life of a bushman. Further information on the case of the Bushmen can be obtained from Survival International (Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1989), a London-based organization for the rights of tribal people.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Roy Sesana

December 9th, 2005

My name is Roy Sesana; I am a Gana Bushman from the Kalahari in what is now called Botswana. In my language, my name is 'Tobee' and our land is 'T//amm'. We have been there longer than any people has been anywhere.

When I was young, I went to work in a mine. I put off my skins and wore clothes. But I went home after a while. Does that make me less Bushman? I don't think so.

I am a leader. When I was a boy we did not need leaders and we lived well. Now we need them because our land is being stolen and we must struggle to survive. It doesn't mean I tell people what to do, it's the other way around: they tell me what I have to do to help them.

I cannot read. You wanted me to write this speech, so my friends helped, but I cannot read words - I'm sorry! But I do know how to read the land and the animals. All our children could. If they didn't, they would have all died long ago.

I know many who can read words and many, like me, who can only read the land. Both are important. We are not backward or less intelligent: we live in exactly the same up-to-date year as you. I was going to say we all live under the same stars, but no, they're different, and there are many more in the Kalahari. The sun and moon are the same.

I grew up a hunter. All our boys and men were hunters. Hunting is going and talking to the animals. You don't steal. You go and ask. You set a trap or go with bow or spear. It can take days. You track the antelope. He knows you are there, he knows he has to give you his strength. But he runs and you have to run. As you run, you become like him. It can last hours and exhaust you both. You talk to him and look into his eyes. And then he knows he must give you his strength so your children can live.

When I first hunted, I was not allowed to eat. Pieces of the steenbok were burnt with some roots and spread on my body. This is how I learned. It's not the same way you learn, but it works well.

The farmer says he is more advanced than the backward hunter, but I don't believe him. His herds give no more food than ours. The antelope are not our slaves, they do not wear bells on their necks and they can run faster than the lazy cow or the herder. We run through life together.

When I wear the antelope horns, it helps me talk to my ancestors and they help me. The ancestors are so important: we would not be alive without them. Everyone knows this in their heart, but some have forgotten. Would any of us be here without our ancestors? I don't think so.

I was trained as a healer. You have to read the plants and the sand. You have to dig the roots and become fit. You put some of the root back for tomorrow, so one day your grandchildren can find it and eat. You learn what the land tells you.

When the old die, we bury them and they become ancestors. When there is sickness, we dance and we talk to them; they speak through my blood. I touch the sick person and can find the illness and heal it.

We are the ancestors of our grandchildren's children. We look after them, just as our ancestors look after us. We aren't here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren.

Why am I here? Because my people love their land, and without it we are dying. Many years ago, the president of Botswana said we could live on our ancestral land forever. We never needed anyone to tell us that. Of course we can live where God created us! But the next president said we must move and began forcing us away.

They said we had to go because of diamonds. Then they said we were killing too many animals: but that's not true. They say many things which aren't true. They said we had to move so the government could develop us. The president says unless we change we will perish like the dodo. I didn't know what a dodo was. But I found out: it was a bird which was wiped out by settlers. The president was right. They are killing us by forcing us off our land. We have been tortured and shot at. They arrested me and beat me.

Thank you for the Right Livelihood Award. It is global recognition of our struggle and will raise our voice throughout the world. When I heard I had won I had just been let out of prison. They say I am a criminal, as I stand here today.

I say what kind of development is it when the people live shorter lives than before? They catch HIV/AIDS. Our children are beaten in school and won't go there. Some become prostitutes. They are not allowed to hunt. They fight because they are bored and get drunk. They are starting to commit suicide. We never saw that before. It hurts to say this. Is this 'development'?

We are not primitive. We live differently to you, but we do not live exactly like our grandparents did, nor do you. Were your ancestors 'primitive'? I don't think so. We respect our ancestors. We love our children. This is the same for all people.

We now have to stop the government stealing our land: without it we will die.

If anyone has read a lot of books and thinks I am primitive because I have not read even one, then he should throw away those books and get one which says we are all brothers and sisters under God and we too have a right to live.

That is all. Thank you.

I am now going to play about my ancestors who have protected us for many years. The song says "Please, government of Botswana, let us stay on our ancestral land to practise our culture and enjoy our lives."

  Pictures
 Videos

The Long Hunt of Roy Sesana (produced by Africa 24 Media)

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

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