The Racist of the Year 2016 Award goes to President Ian Khama of Botswana, who has referred to the heavily persecuted Bushmen of the Kalahari as living “lives of backwardness” and “a primeval life of a bygone era” while preventing them from returning to their land despite a court verdict in their favor.
Survival International (SI), an international tribal advocacy organization, announced the award in late September asserting that Khama’s comments and policies called “into question the legitimacy of the Bushmen’s existing and suggesting that they are lower down the evolutionary ladder than other people.”
The Bushmen have been described as the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, living in what are now the countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola for at least 20,000 years, sustained by a hunting and gathering way of life.
They were evicted from their homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana in 1997, 2002 and 2005 and many have been living in poverty in government camps. Michael Dingake, described by SI as a veteran anti-apartheid activist, has compared the permit system used on the Bushmen to South Africa’s former pass laws of their apartheid era. In the meantime their lands have been opened up to diamond mines and luxury tourist lodges.
Khama is in his second term as president after first being elected in 2008. While a High Court ruled in 2006 that the Bushmen had a right to their land the Khama Administration has prevented them from returning to their ancestral homes to live and hunt.
SI Campaigner Lewis Evans has described Khama’s anti-Bushmen policies as being highly destructive.
“The Bushmen are persecuted when they hunt to feed their families, and even face shootings, arrest, beatings and torture for trying to feed themselves as they have for generations by hunting antelope with spears or bows and arrows,” Evans stated.
“This is, in effect, the destruction of an entire people. Khama and his government haven’t herded the Bushmen into extermination camps or shot them en masse, but they have made it all but impossible for them to continue to live. “
In August of this year, SI reported that Botswana police officers in a helicopter fired on Bushmen while they were hunting and later the men were “arrested, stripped naked and beaten while in custody.”
SI’s Director Stephen Corry said: “General Khama’s track record on abusing the Bushmen is unrivalled. Deep-seated racism is evidently driving his persecution of the tribes. Khama openly voices opinions that belong back in the colonial era, echoing the sort of prejudiced comments that were made by British imperialists. By giving him this award, we hope to bring anti-tribal racism to wider attention and pressure his government to start treating the Bushmen better.”