Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Bushmen's Doom

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Bushmen's Doom

Article excerpt


THE BUSHMEN OF SOUTHERN AFRICA: Slaughter of the Innocent by Sandy Gall, with a foreword by The Prince of Wales

ONCE upon a time, Sandy Gall, that veteran and urbane TV newscaster, used to be what journalists call an "old Africa hand", which is to say that he loves the place and used to know it well. In retirement he has returned - and he chose to go to the Kalahari Desert to investigate the awful fate of the Bushmen. This is the impassioned story of his discovery of "a people with no land, virtually no rights, no place in society except at the very bottom, and little if any future".

He reckons that there are about 100,000 Bushmen still left in southern Africa, half of them in Botswana and the Kalahari, where they are being steadily dispossessed by the government. (That figure may be too high, and certainly there are few "wild" Bushmen left, as opposed to the "tame" Bushmen who have come to some sort of accommodation with the modern world. It is hard today to find Bush-

men who have no contact whatsoever with boots, jeans, ghetto-blasters and, most fatally, alcohol.) Gall understands that he had to choose between "a romanticised picture of a hunter-gatherer society which no longer existed or a factual, warts-and-all account of a desperately downtrodden people". Of course, he opted for the latter, and he has done this in a style which will fascinate many readers who would never dream of venturing into that enormous and surprisingly lush desert. The romantic version he mined to expel them from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which was originally set up to give them a possibility of maintaining their traditional mode of life. In the early 1980s, the South African Defence Force, esteeming their tracker skills, recruited the Bushmen into its wars in Angola and today's Namibia: when that war was lost, the Bushman soldiers had to be evacuated to the Northern Cape, where their society rapidly disintegrated - again, alcohol was the more dangerous enemy.

There have been heroes - and Gall gives them their due - who have fought a good fight (for instance, the well-named Hardbattles, children of a London policeman and a Bush-woman - they were helped, incidentally, by the Prince of Wales). …

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