Roy Sesana / First People of the Kalahari

Awarded 2005


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

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.

Sesana is also 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.

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.

Roy Sesana, 2005 Laureate

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

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 continued to carry on his work, trying to encourage his colleagues to leave the government camps, which he called "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 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 (1989 Right Livelihood Laureate), a London-based organization for the rights of tribal people.

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