SPARE a thought for the Bushmen (San, Khwe, Basarwa) of Botswana. They’re having a rough time of it, so rough that Survival International, a human rights group, has called it genocide.

About 100,000 Bushmen are spread across Southern Africa.

They have populated the region for more than 20,000 years, and if there’s any talk about returning land to its original owners, they should be first in line.

They are ignored, of course, because their numbers are pitiful and, anyway, they are regarded as rejects, forgotten people who allowed the world to roll past and straight over them.

Many Bushmen were located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), which covers 53,000km² in Botswana, established in 1961 to protect the Bushmen’s traditional territory and the natural fauna and flora. Fifty years later and they’re being hounded off the land set aside for their use and sustenance. The reason — as ever — is money and greed.

Diamonds were discovered in the CKGR in the 1980s. During the 1990s the Botswana government decided to relocate the Bushmen from the reserve into newly created settlements. It claimed this was because many "residents of the CKGR" (read Bushmen) wanted to become agriculturists rather than continue as hunter-gatherers. In any event, concluded the government, hunter-gathering was obsolete and unsustainable and the reserve was unable to provide adequately for both wildlife and the Bushmen.

Three major clearances were undertaken in 1997, 2002 and 2005. The effect was to remove virtually all of the Bushmen.

They were prevented from hunting in the reserve and their water supply wells were capped.

They were dumped in relocation camps outside the reserve, where they survive on government handouts and where, according to Survival, they suffer from alcoholism, depression, TB and HIV/AIDS.

A few Bushmen struck back. In 2002 they went to court to compel the Botswana government to permit their return to the CKGR.

They won but the state promptly responded by arguing that the judgment applied only to the 189 Bushmen whose names appeared on the court application.

It prohibited the use of a borehole on the basis that the water was for animals only, refused to issue permits permitting Bushmen to hunt in the reserve and prevented the rescue of those dying of thirst. Voice of America quotes Smith Moeti, who was born in the reserve, as remembering security forces "preventing aid workers from accessing the CKGR to help thirsty Bushmen".

In a landmark judgment in 2006 in which UK barrister Gordon Bennett represented the Bushmen, the court ruled the refusal to issue game licences or to permit the Basarwa (as they are called in Botswana) to return to the CKGR was "unlawful and unconstitutional". More than 1,000 Bushmen said they would return, but the ruling was narrowly interpreted and only limited numbers were allowed access. That prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council to criticise the Botswana government in 2008.

Yet another case resulted in 2011, when the Bushmen won an appeal in the high court against the government’s refusal to allow them to access borehole water inside the reserve. Bennett described the case as "a harrowing story of human suffering and despair".

In July this year the Botswana government refused Bennett re-entry, days before the Bushmen went back to court to secure access to their ancestral land. As it turned out, the Botswana High Court ruled that applicants would be required personally to prove that they lived in the CKGR when they were evicted in 2002. That probably spelt the end of the Bushmen’s opposition.

The response was a worldwide campaign to halt tourism visits to Botswana. Two travel companies, Travelpickr and Horizonte Paralelo, have suspended their tours to the country and several others have expressed concerns.

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales told Botswana President Ian Khama it was gravely concerned and the US and UK governments say the matter must be attended to urgently.

All this must be deeply uncomfortable for Gem Diamonds, the UK-based company developing the large Ghaghoo diamond mine 45km inside the CKGR, construction of the first phase of which began in 2011 and from which production is expected next year.

CEO Clifford Elphick, formerly an aide to the late mining giant Harry Oppenheimer, can’t be happy about his company’s position — stuck between a people subjected to tyranny, a stubborn government, and the suspicions of a large segment of international opinion makers.


SA cancer expert thrives in US

WHO is the richest man in Los Angeles, and does he have a Sefrican accent? He is Patrick Soon-Shiong, born in Port Elizabeth to Chinese immigrants and, yes, he speaks Sefrican.

According to Forbes, his personal wealth is $9bn. His wife, Michelle Chan, is a former film star (MacGyver series, American Ninja 3, Blood Hunt and the Hotel series).

Soon-Shiong matriculated at 16; he read his medical degree at Wits followed by an MSc from the University of British Columbia.

In 1993 he performed the world’s first encapsulated human islet transplant (the islets of Langerhans, associated with diabetes and pancreatic cancer) and, later, the first pig-to-man islet transplant in diabetic patients. Soon-Shiong developed Abraxane, initially a breast cancer drug wrapped in nanoparticles that allow the medicine to be delivered inside tumours (Science magazine).

Abraxane has been approved in 40 countries and is undergoing trials for lung, melanoma, gastric and pancreatic cancers.

Soon-Shiong founded and sold two multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies. He told Wired magazine that, as part of a National Aeronautical and Space Administration programme, it was realised that the science of stem-cell proliferation was fundamental to cancer cells in the phase of metastasis and an identical protein would be involved in both. That led to the creation of a nanoparticle of the protein with the drug inside it.

"It was," he said, "a magic portal to the tumour cell."