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The insider's guide to the Kalahari Bushmen

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(CNN) -- In a landmark court case on Wednesday, Botswana's High Court ruled that the country's Bushmen could return to their ancestral lands in the Kalahari Desert. Here's all you need to know about one of the world's last surviving groups of hunter gatherers.

Who are the Bushmen?

About half of southern Africa's 100,000 surviving bushmen live in Botswana, where they have hunted in the Kalahari desert for some 22,000 years, making them the region's oldest inhabitants. The Bushmen or Basarwa (meaning "those without cattle") -- also known as the San -- traditionally live in temporary wooden shelters. They are renowned for their ability to track wildlife by reading signs in the sand, although none of the Bushmen now live the traditional life of their ancestors which involved tracking and killing game on foot using poisoned arrows.

Why were the Bushmen re-settled?

The bushmen claimed they had been evicted from their protected reserve illegally by the government to make way for diamond mining. Now living mainly in two resettlement camps, they say they have suffered from disruption to their traditional way of life, with many falling victim to AIDS and alcoholism, and can no longer hunt for wild game and forage for roots and berries as their ancestors once did. Around 1,000 bushmen filed the lawsuit, backed by UK-based pressure group Survival International, to gain the right to return to their former lands now inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve which covers an area the size of Belgium.

What did the government say?

The government claims the Bushmen were moved to improve their living conditions and says they now have access to better drinking water, schools and medical facilities. It says the 2,000 re-settled in 1997 and 2002 left the land voluntarily as part of plans to make the area into a game reserve -- and received compensation for their land. It claims the Bushmen had already abandoned their traditional lifestyle and threatened endangered wildlife.

What about the diamond mining industry?

Botswana is the world's largest diamond producer and the industry has transformed a country once one of Africa's poorest, financing health and education services and earning it a reputation as a sub-Saharan success story. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve also lies right in the middle of the world's richest diamond fields. The diamond giant De Beers, which operates all of Botswana's mines in a 50-50 partnership with the government, has been targeted by Survival International as part of its campaign in support of the Bushmen. But De Beers says it has no plans to expand into the Kalahari Reserve and has urged Botswana's government to stop evicting Bushmen from the land.

What was the court's verdict?

The court's three judges ruled 2-1 in favor of the Bushmen, finding that the government had tried to evict them by cutting off their water supplies and other services, depriving them of their lands "forcibly, wrongly and without their consent." However, the court did not rule that the government had to provide essential services to those living in the reserve. It also said it could find no grounds for claims that the government wanted to clear the land for diamond mining.

What happens next?

Although the ruling gives the Bushmen the right to return to the lands, it is unclear how many will choose to do so, given that the ruling does not compel the government to provide basic necessities such as water, healthcare or education. The government is also likely to appeal the verdict. Efforts are likely to focus on re-generating the Kalahari reserve as a site for wildlife tourism -- a tough proposition given that animal numbers have slumped to just five percent of levels 30 years ago.


Bushmen from the Kalahari wait inside the court before the final hearing of their case against the Botswana government on Wednesday.

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