Late at night in the Kalahari Desert, a little more than a decade ago, the clouds drew together like rippled crocodile skin, and the Bushmen, led by an old man named Kexla Sanao, danced on the cool sand. Sanao shook his body and stamped his feet, rhythmically mimicking the movement of the bush creatures he had lived with all his life.
An old woman named Qoroxloo Duxee laughed at him. She told me she wasn’t afraid to live among the lions or hyenas in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve of Botswana.
Sanao’s people were fighting for their right to exist after being evicted in 2002 by the Botswanan government from the reserve. Authorities had sealed their wells, leaving them without water, and barred them from hunting.
“They said they were moving us because they wanted to develop us. I don’t know what development means,” he told me in 2005, explaining his shock, and fear, at the idea of moving far from his land and the graves of his ancestors. “To me, it felt like dying.”
The woman, Duxee, died that year of starvation and dehydration, according to a postmortem report, after the government cut off food supplies in a bid to get her and other die-hards to leave. Sanao, who like most Bushmen doesn’t know his age, is still clinging on in the park with a few hundred others.