1 January 2005
© Copyright 2005 New Internationalist
Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
THE two Gana men never imagined they would find themselves on other continents thousands of kilometres away from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in southern Africa. But the fight to save their homelands and their people recently led Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone to the US, Britain and Norway.
They want the world to know of the Botswana Government's brutal eviction of the Gana and Gwi (traditionally known as 'Bushmen') from the ancestral lands they have inhabited for more than 20,000 years. Forced into grim resettlement camps they call 'places of death', about 2,500 Gana and Gwi and the neighbouring Bakgalagadi are struggling to survive.
'We are dying now in the resettlement camps,' Roy Sesana, an elder and shaman, said during his visit to London. 'We depended on what is on our land and we managed to survive. We know that land. We know where our ancestors are. Now we've been pushed into the hands of the Government.' This Government, they say, has used torture and intimidation, has banned hunting and gathering, and has shut off water supplies in order to expel them.
But these indigenous peoples are fighting back against the Government and the forcible relocations they suffered in 1997 and 2002. They formed an organization to protect their rights, the First Peoples of the Kalahari - currently chaired by Roy Sesana - and took the Government to court. 'We have human rights,' says Sesana. 'We are people. We have to be respected. No matter what kind of development, it has to be discussed with us.'
Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebone say that it is no coincidence that the forced removals coincided with diamond prospecting in the area. The vast grasslands of the Kalahari - the home and hunting grounds of the Gana and Gwi - contain diamond deposits in a country renowned as one of the world's leading diamond producers. 'We have been evicted for mining concessions and tourism,' Roy Sesana explains.
The court case reconvened in November after being adjourned last July. The Gana and Gwi have appealed for international support in their efforts to return to their ancestral land.
'There is no democracy for us,' says Roy Sesana. 'If there were democracy in Botswana, there would be no need for me to sit here today and ask for your help.'
Their hopes of returning to the Kalahari now rest on the legal challenge. 'If we lose this case,' says Roy Sesana, 'it will be the end of Bushmen and the end of the Bushman culture.'
Rosemary J Brown
Landslide: Uruguay turns left
Frente leader Tabor Vázquez, a cancer specialist, will take office on 1 March 2005. The Broad Front was founded in 1971 and today comprises socialists, communists, Christian Democrats, independent leftist groups and former Tupamaros guerrillas. It suffered harsh repression during the military dictatorship (1973-85) but re-emerged to take 20 per cent of the votes in the first postdictatorship elections.
The day of the Frente's victory, Uruguayans also voted for a constitutional reform consecrating access to water as a human right to be served only by public provision. The 62-per-cent Yes vote for this amendment made Uruguay the first country in the world to have both things guaranteed in its Constitution (South Africa specifies water as a human right but allows it to be provided by private companies).
The Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) recently sent out a communiqué stating that: ‘Terrorist acts against women in Iraq by Islamic groups have increased dramatically in recent months and reached an unprecedented level under the rubric of “observing sanctities during Ramadan”. A fascist Islamic group called Mujahideen Shura Group has warned that it will kill any women who are seen on the street unveiled, whether by themselves or with a male companion.’
OWFI’s website and representatives inside and outside Iraq have, throughout the occupation, reported on violence against women, whether or not it is politically motivated. Yanar Mohammed, the group’s director, has received death threats for her work. Sakar Ahmed, chair of the Erbil branch, has been assaulted and threatened with death since July 2004 by male members of her family.
Yanar was not invited to the founding conference in July 2003 of Women for Peace and Democracy. This US-controlled organization was set up to co-opt women’s groups around the US propaganda agenda, ensuring that funding was available for – and only for – activities which were in accord with the White House message, and that projects not on-message were either toned down to access grants or marginalized altogether. Behind many women’s groups in Iraq, if you look, is the neocon antifeminist Lynn Cheney (wife of the US Vice-President).
OWFI criticizes the occupying forces for failing to protect women from abuse, for generally degrading women in their interactions with the public and particularly for mistreating those women in coalition custody. The group is unequivocal in its call for an end to the occupation, although it has been attacked by some for this latest communiqué, accused of lending credibility to US attempts to paint the resistance as a homogeneous terrorist bloc.
The group is somewhat compromised by the closeness of its links to the Workers Communist Party though, in fairness, it’s hard to find a politically active group that is not linked with a party in Iraq. It has also been criticized for focusing on the veil and domestic violence rather than other issues, choices which partly stem from its roots in the Iranian Organization for Women’s Freedom.
OWFI supports women students who have been threatened with suspension from colleges unless they wear the veil. It operates Iraq’s first shelters (outside Kurdistan) for women fleeing domestic violence, in Baghdad and Kirkuk. It also raises consciousness about violence against women, including among extremely poor women in the squatter camps.
OWFI blames political Islamist groups for killing professional women in Mosul and academics across the country. This is hotly disputed: many Iraqis are quick to point out that a lot of the scientists and academics killed had been pursued by the Americans, who demanded that they leave Iraq before the war. It is unclear how much of the killing and kidnapping is criminal and how much is ideological. The recent execution of Margaret Hassan shows just how far things have deteriorated. In a conflict which some sides want to present as simple and polarized, good versus evil, OWFI sits not on the fence but in the crossfire.
THE southernmost provinces of Thailand, some parts of which are now reeling from the aftermath of the devastating tsunami, have been plagued with turmoil and killings since early this year. In Chana district in Songkla province, villagers are continuing their long-fought struggle against the $1 billion Thai-Malaysia gas pipeline project and its associated industrial schemes. The villagers warn that the pipeline and industrial projects will affect their livelihoods, which rely on small-scale fisheries and agriculture. Financed by a consortium of banks headed by Barclays, the project is a joint venture between the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) and Petronas of Malaysia.
Since 2000, the Thai Government has resorted to violence, intimidation, harassment, arrests, legal fraud, illegal detentions and threats of force to try to push the project through. Defying this violence, local opponents have peacefully occupied land near the construction site of the gas separation plant for nearly two years. The legal status of much of the project land remains heavily disputed.
On 25 October, a shocking massacre in an unrelated protest outside a police station only 200 kilometres away put the national spotlight on police violence in the south: 6 young protesters were shot dead, and 79 suffocated to death after being bound and stacked on army trucks.
The massacre exemplified tensions between southern Muslims and this mostly Buddhist country's central government. Just three days after the killings, the pipeline protesters were visited by a 50-strong solidarity delegation from communities in Prachuab Khiri Khan, over 600 kilometres to the north, who had successfully opposed a coal-fired power plant slated for their own coastline. The sight of the flags of these two longtime allies flying together on the pipeline site - green for the largely Buddhist Prachuab movement, red for the Muslim Chana communities - presented a sharp contrast to continuing government attempts to stoke up Buddhist-Muslim conflict.
In the course of their struggle since 1998, violent clashes with the police have been a recurring theme, most notably on 20 December 2002, when villagers attempting to present a petition to the Prime Ministers of Thailand and Malaysia were assaulted by police, resulting in numerous injuries and arrests. Since June 2003, when construction got under way, hundreds of border patrol police equipped with M-16s and batons have been deployed at Chana itself.
' Is this the project that has advertised itself to be peacefully part of our communities?' says Rogiyoh Madae, a Chana villager. With the recent massacre in Tak Bai still fresh in her mind, she says that anything could happen under the current administration. Yet she continues to fight for the cause that has taken much of her life for the last seven years.
During the second week of December, Sulaiman Matyusoh, a local fisher representing the protesting villagers, travelled to Britain, mainly to meet with Barclays, the leading financier for the project. Embarrassed by his unexpected presence and message delivered at the conference on human rights and business, co-sponsored by Barclays itself, the bank later met Sulaiman and other activists from India and Thailand, as well as The Corner House, Friends of the Earth, and PLATFORM.
'It's disturbing to hear them say that they knew the problems with the public hearings and the violence on 20 December, but they went ahead with the funding anyway,' says Sulaiman. 'They said they were not aware of the heavy deployment of police troops that had been paid for by one of the project consortium. They seemed not to know anything on the ground. How is this possible?’
© Copyright 2005 New Internationalist
Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.