The San of the “Central Kalahari Game Reserve”: Can nature be protected without the indigenous San of Botswana?

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Andy Chebanne
Eric Glon


Historically, San people have occupied the territory that is now referred to as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In this semi-desert area, they have, over generations, adapted to the dry environment and learnt to survive from its natural resources. The geography of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) compelled the San to develop indigenous knowledge systems that ensured their survival in this harsh environment. Recently, the san were forcibly relocated from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, which is considered their historical land and a place that ensures the preservation of their indigenous knowledge and ancient cultures.  Their removal from the CKGR means that their indigenous knowledge, cultures and livelihoods have been affected. This article problematizes the relocation of the San by asking this question: can nature be protected without the indigenous San? It argues that moving the San to geographical areas that do not help them maintain their survival skills, cultural and ethnic identity is a recipe for the destruction of their culture. The current policy on protecting nature and its biodiversity in the framework of protected area is based on profits that tourism can generate, and not on the protection of the indigenous San and their cultures. In the areas the San have been relocated to, they are made to compete against each other, and with more powerful ethnic groups, for space and resources. The protected areas where they came from thrive with tourism businesses operated by wealthy foreigners. Mining activities have also started there, and this has contributed to Botswana’s image as a leading gem diamond producer in the world. Local indigenous people’s (lack of) participation in these socio-economic ventures signals a paradigm shift in nature conservation. The article concludes by suggesting that if gaining this natural capital depends on economic factors and international commerce, political choices need to be made to ensure the inclusion of the San people in the economic activities taking place in their ancestral lands

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