Civic umbrella body to highlight plight of the Basarwa

An umbrella body of civic organisations hosting its biennial world assembly in Botswana next month plans to open a dialogue on the plight of the country's bushmen, also known as the Basarwa.

CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, said on Tuesday it was hoping to play the role of a "neutral mediator" in a dispute that pits the governnment against human rights groups.

Kumi Naidoo, the secretary-general of CIVICUS, said his organisation would hold a session on the Basarwa on 16-17 March in the capital, Gaborone, ahead of the world assembly from 21-25 March.

Most of the major role-players involved in the Basarwa issue - the Botswana government, the lobby group Survival International (SI) and Debswana, a mining company jointly owned by the government and De Beers - are expected to participate in the two-day dialogue.

Since 1997, more than 3,000 Basarwa have been removed from their ancestral home in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). SI alleges that the government's renewed interest in the CKGR land, which they once considered barren, was because it has rich diamond deposits.

But the government has maintained that its decision to relocate the Basarwa was prompted by their need to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the bushmen.

Naidoo said the assembly had chosen Botswana as the host country because it had a long tradition of democracy and stability.

CIVICUS, which has 600 members in 110 countries, also plans to release a report on the situation in Zimbabwe during the assembly. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Prega Ramsamy, the executive secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community, and South Africa's former first lady, Graca Machel, are all expected to address the gathering.