Celebrate Cultural Diversity Botswana! – notes from UN special reporter

Upon the end of the UN expert’s cultural visit, special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed urges the country to shift to a ‘second phase’ of nation building that focuses on the rich cultural diversity of Botswana.

Her views ranged from recognition of tribes, language rights, land right and engagement of public with regards to government policies. She noted that as there were a number of good practices, various potential obstacles have a threat to culture preservation, and cultural human rights.

Shaheed noted that issues relating to tribes and communities under the 2008 Bogosi Act must be addressed with immediate action. “Unlike the eight Tswana tribes who have a guaranteed seat in the House of Chiefs, other communities do not, “she noted, further observing that adjudication of chiefs leads to dominate tribe imposing its customary law on all tribal groups.

Shaheed further identified language diversity as something government may need to look into. “While the use of Setswana as the national language has enabled most people in the country to communicate with each other, mother tongue education in the first years of schooling is certainly a way forward,” she said. “The risk of further disadvantage incurred upon children in remote areas who have no or minimal exposure to Setswana in their families and communities, in particular those residing in hostels without family support systems, is significant.” She states.

On the larger scheme of environmental preservation, Shaheed commended Botswana for its success on Okavango Delta becoming a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, specifically noting that the government took the consultative process of engagement of people in the area.

However, unlike inhabitants of the Okavango Delta area, voices of frustration, fears and anger expressed by the San, Hambukushu and Wayeyi communities concerned Shaheed. She noted that these feelings stemmed from the lack of clear and concise information about policy and future plans – more so with regard to human/wildlife conflicts.

“The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has been at the centre of considerable controversy since the Government decided to relocate all people residing there to settlements outside the Reserve,” said Shaheed. Even faced with a court ruling confirming the right of the petitioners to return to CKGR, communities are concerned with restrictive interpretation of the ruling, and the right of their children of remain on the reserve after becoming 18 years of age. This is a subject that needs to be cleared with government urgently.

Apart from the traditional spaces for community engagements and consultations known as the kgotlas, Shaheed called for more alternative spaces for people to engage in sporting and recreational activities in both rural and urban areas where culture can be preserved. “I encourage the Government to expand its support to non-traditional forms of cultural expression and to consider the establishment of a national arts council for the promotion and further development of art and creative industries.” She noted.

The Special Rapporteur visited Gaborone, Maun, Ghanzi / Dkar, Old Xade, New Xade, Shakawe, and the Tsodilo Hills, as well as several villages in the Okavango Delta, and Ramotswa. She met with Government officials, chiefs, artists, academics, and representatives of civil society.

Her recommendations do not only end here – she will present them further in detail to the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2015 in Geneva. As citizens of Botswana, it should be mandated that pressure is put on government to ensure that these recommendations are implemented to preserve the cultural diversity in the country.