Monday, November 23, 2009

Will this Girl's Death Change Anything?

The recent death of an eight year old Mosarwa (Bushman/San) girl living in the north of Botswana is haunting me. I keep seeing the image of this little girl lost in the bush infested with lions and elephants and leopards. For seven days walking, hoping that she'd find her way home, hoping that someone might be out looking for her. And finally laying down in the grass and dying all alone. Why was she out in the bush in the first place? Because she could not bear to stay another day in the boarding school where she had been left.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, the little girl, Kelapile Kayawe, was left at her school Xakao Primary School, by her elder brother. Because many Basarwa live in tiny informal settlements the government cannot afford to build primary schools near them. Instead the primary schools are boarding schools called Remote Area Dweller (RAD) Schools. The schools have received a lot of bad press, citing abuse of the young children who attend them. In Botswana, though few like to say it outright, there is racism against Basarwa, the first people of Southern Africa. Since staff in RAD schools are appointed by central government, in most cases they are not Basarwa but rather people from Setswana speaking tribes, many of which arrive with their burden of prejudice. Even if there is no prejudice the staff do not speak the children's home language nor do they know the traditions of people in that area. For children new to school, this is a problem.

After dropping Kelapile at the school her brother turned to head back home, but what he didn't know was that Kelapile decided to follow him. In a short time she was hopelessly lost. This was on the 21st of October. According to the article, no one at the school reported the girl missing. On the 25th of October, Kelapile's elder sister was given permission to go home and tell her parents that Kelapile had left the school. Once home, her parents became alarmed and organised a search for the little girl.

Meanwhile Kelapile's older sister returned back to school on the 26th. The article says it was only upon her arrival, when she alerted them that Kelapile was not at home, that the school began to take notice of the situation.

On the 28th of October Kelapile's already decaying body was found. She had walked 155 km in the hot summer sun. She died alone. No post mortem on her body was done since it was too decomposed and she was buried the next day. Inside the paper, Kelapile's father Shushu Kasanga says, "I doubt Kelapile would have died if she was not a Mosarwa."

This issue is a very tricky one in Botswana. The recent skirmishes between the government and the radical and often ill-informed, UK based Survival International over the issue of Basarwa scares people into silence. Because Survival International tried to link the problem incorrectly with diamonds, Batswana circled the wagons. At the same time, Batswana wonder why outsiders feel they can meddle in our problems.

The government is trying its best. They want Basarwa integrated into mainstream Botswana society, that seems the only way toward development. But the racism issue needs to be addressed. If it is the case that Basarwa have the same rights and opportunities as all other Batswana then where are the Basarwa nurses, the Basarwa police officers, the Basarwa teachers? There is a problem and continued denial is not helping to find a way to the solution.
I wonder if Kelapile's death will finally get people speaking about the unspeakable.

13 comments:

Selma said...

This is so distressing to think of, Lauri. A little girl dying alone in the bush.....I just can't even gather my thoughts on this one. And to think that it is a possible result of racism. It is an absolute tragedy. I am so terribly sad to hear of it.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Actually Selma the problem with Basarwa in Botswana I think may be very similar to the aborigines in Australia. It is a complex issue. It's about maintinaing culture but adpating to change. It's about entrenched attitudes and a denial of the same.

SueG said...

a horrible story. Will the fact that it is reported in the papers and general press now (if it is) help the situation any? Maybe. Eventually....

karen said...

Very complex issue, indeed. Totally heartbreaking. When I read about this little girl in the paper I couldn't even finish reading the article. Well said, Lauri

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Sue- The problem with this issue as with all tribal issues in Botswana, in fact, is that people often feel talking about it agitates the issue. As if the wild caged animal is set lose. And the Survival International issue makes Batswana feel almost unpatriotic mentioning any discrimination against Basarwa.

Karen- Is that place near you? You're in Kasane right? I think this school might be the other side, near Shakawe. My geography for places with elephants is scanty.

My Bestfriend's Little Sister(MBLS) said...

Wow, this is really sad news.

Helen Ginger said...

This made me cry, Lauri. Reading about it, of course, makes me think of my own daughter, now grown and living on her on. She was home for 32 hours this weekend to attend her cousin's wedding. I miss her already, so it tears at my heart to think of this little girl's parents and siblings.

Change takes time. We certainly can attest to that here in the US. We're still working on it. You're right, though, it needs to come from within.

Helen
Straight From Hel

groovyoldlady said...

Oh Laurie, how awful! That no one even knew she was missing... And the racism; it's so hard to escape, isn't it? *sigh* I certainly DO hope this sad incident will help wake people up and build bridges between them.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Man, what a sad tale. I too will not easily forget the image of that poor little girl wandering the countryside, trying to go home. What a tragedy. I fear that it is part and parcel of the human condition, people don't seem to be able to stop hating one another for the lamest of reasons...

Journaling Woman said...

poor little thing, she just wanted to go home. My 27 year old daughter comes home sometimes to stay a weekend...sometimes you just need to go home. The little girl probably thought if she just kept walking she would find her mother. Breaks my heart.

Lemang said...

its a sad thing that the young girl died.

And I wonder what is your definition of racism?

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Lemang, thanks for stopping by.
I think in Botswana it is common knowledge that the majority of people take being called a Mosarwa an insult. The recent incident at the border regarding the South African women and our President is an example of that. If they would hafve said he looks like a Mokgatla there would have been no arrests made.

Also the fact that Basarwa cannot be found in proportionally equal numbers in the civil service (for example) as compared to other tribes is an indication of institutional racsim.

I wonder, do you think there is racism agaisnt Basarwa in Botswana?

Tiro said...

i wonder wat the work for the matrons and care taker is. they were the first ppl to know that she is missing.