Constitutional Rights Relevant for Indigenous Peoples in Botswana
In Botswana, the concept of "indigenous peoples" is not acknowledged and the political rhetoric has been to ignore the de facto cultural diversity. The strategy has been to over-communicate an image of a non-racial, non-ethnic homogenous state.
However, this image does not correspond to the realities: the culture and the language of the numerically dominant Tswana people have become the dominant symbols for Botswana as a nation (the literal meaning of Botswana is "The land of the Tswana people"), and the Constitution (1966) underlines this fact.
The Constitution guarantees the "Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the individual… whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex". However, the Constitution specifically mentions and gives special privileges to the eight major Setswana-speaking tribes – by-passing the other minor ethnic tribes in the country who include, besides the San and the Nama, the Bakgalagadi, Kalanga, BaYeei, Mubukushu, Bapedi, and Herero. The only reference to the San (Bushmen) is found in subsection 3 (c) of Section 14 of the Constitution. While section 14 states that "no person shall be deprived of his freedom of movement, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom means the right to move freely throughout Botswana, the right to reside in any part of Botswana…" subsection 3 (c) provides the right to "the imposition of restrictions on the entry into or residence within defined areas of Botswana of persons who are not Bushmen to the extent that such restrictions are reasonably required for the protection or well-being of Bushmen".
The Government of Botswana has recently presented a Constitutional Amendment Bill 34 (2004-5) aimed at making the Constitution "tribally neutral". Especially sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution have been criticized for being discriminatory since they guarantee automatic membership of the House of Chiefs to the eight Setswana-speaking paramount chiefs, while the minority groups, including the San, are represented by only three members, regarded as sub-chiefs, who are elected to the House on a rotating basis and for a four-year term.
Read more about the Constitutional Amendment Bill under Central Issues.