In the end, the Bushmen of Molapo village could neither hunt nor gather, they said. Nor could they tend crops, collect firewood or lead their goats to pasture. After tens of thousands of years, the dry but life-giving vastness of the Kalahari Desert was declared off-limits by police and wildlife officers.
According to Molapo's chief, Molathwe Mokalaka, officials told the villagers that if they stayed, "you will eat the soil. Nothing else but the soil."
Sealed off from their land and prohibited from using alternative sources of food or water, the final 25 villagers left Molapo on government trucks just over a week ago. They were deposited several hours later in New Xade, a resettlement camp beyond the western border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Most now spend the hot days here sitting beneath trees or in makeshift huts, dreaming of returning home.
"The government is demolishing our tribe and our race," said Mokalaka, who is about 80 and has the caved chest and ropey arms of the chronically hungry. As he spoke, his air of quiet dignity melted into anger.
Villagers here said they never would have left Molapo if not for the guns and threats of police and wildlife officers. Some critics also contend that the government's motive in removing the Bushmen is to gain easier access to deposits of diamonds located in the game reserve.
Government officials maintain that Mokalaka and the others left voluntarily after their goats, sickened with a contagious disease, were confiscated as part of a quarantine. And though the government has long sought to relocate the Bushmen from the game reserve and banned hunting there, officials denied that the villagers were harassed, prevented from gathering roots or forcibly removed.
A two-hour video that officials shot the week the villagers were removed showed Bushmen who appeared angry and shouted at the camera, but it did not show guns.
"We're not forcing people out," Jan F. Broekhuis, assistant parks director, said in an interview in Gaborone, the capital.
Ruth Maphorisa, the top official in the district that includes the game reserve, said 72 wildlife and police officers entered the game park Sept. 2, the day after the quarantine was declared, to prevent illegal poaching. Maphorisa said the officers were under orders not to harass the Bushmen and that their accounts were an "exaggeration."
But all sides agreed that Molapo is now just a ghost town of empty huts made of sticks and grass. It was one of the last traditional communities of the hunter-gatherers who once roamed most of southern Africa.
Interviews with villagers from Molapo and the other main Bushmen village, Metsiamanong, provided nearly identical accounts of the last two months.
They said armed officers arrived several weeks ago and made their lives virtually impossible, prohibiting hunting and the collecting of water-rich roots that sustain Bushmen in dry months. Patrols were so heavy that even when the Bushmen walked into wooded areas to relieve themselves, they usually drew an armed escort.
Gakeitsewe Gaorapelwe, who appeared to be in his fifties, said the armed wildlife officers told him, "If you don't relocate to New Xade, we will follow you until death."
At about the same time, the portions of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve where the Bushmen lived were sealed off by a government quarantine against the goat disease, making it impossible for supplies to be delivered from the outside by friends or family members.
Leaders of the Bushmen said the government's campaign to drive them from the game reserve has entered its final phase as surveying for diamonds has escalated. Only an emergency appeal made Wednesday and an ongoing lawsuit offer any hope that they will be allowed home, they said.
"The government is just killing people," Roy Sesana, head of First People of the Kalahari, an advocacy group, said in an interview in Gaborone. Depriving them of the means to feed themselves is no different than "cutting a person's throat with a knife," he added.
The day after Molapo was emptied, nearly half the remaining residents of Metsiamanong were transported out by government trucks. Throughout the entire game reserve, an area larger than Switzerland, there are just a few dozen Bushmen left, according to officials and Bushmen leaders. A decade ago, before the government began its campaign of forced removals, there were an estimated 2,000.
There is no indication of when, or if, Mokalaka and the others will be allowed to return.
The government has not set a date for the end of the quarantine. Repeated efforts to deliver food and water to those inside have failed, in one case leading to a clash with police that left two Bushmen injured, according to witnesses.
The government of Botswana, a landlocked nation of 1.6 million directly north of South Africa that is dependent on diamond deposits, has been attempting to drive the Bushmen out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve since the 1980s.
Officials have argued that human habitation is inconsistent with maintaining the wildlife that make the reserve a major tourist attraction. They also said that it was impractical to provide Bushmen villages the services, such as schools and medical care, that are standard elsewhere in the country.
And although officials acknowledge that diamond companies are surveying within the game reserve, rights to minerals in Botswana are held by the government. Therefore, officials said, human habitation in the Kalahari would have no impact on plans -- should they ever materialize -- to open a diamond mine there.
The government long ago ended water deliveries, banned hunting and required that Bushmen children go to schools outside the reserve where the national language, Setswana, dominates. Forced removals diminished several Kalahari villages, and most Bushmen now live outside the reserve.
The major exceptions were Molapo and Metsiamanong, where dozens of Bushmen had attempted to maintain their traditional lifestyles while staying close to ancestral graves that they visited regularly in search of guidance.
Yet while some traditions endured, the Bushmen in recent years became increasingly sedentary, growing melons and raising goats. Trading animal skins and crafts provided a small amount of income.
These changes, which the Bushmen say have resulted from increasing restrictions on such traditional activities as hunting, are now part of the argument for removing them. Officials portray the Bushmen, romanticized by such movies as "The Gods Must Be Crazy," as undeserving of special treatment.
"They're villagers, no different than any villagers in remote areas of Botswana," Broekhuis, the assistant parks director, said.
The Bushmen dispute that. Despite increasingly modern ways, the Bushmen in the reserve maintain three languages, as well as their own ceremonies and sophisticated knowledge of local plants and animals handed down over generations.
The government regards New Xade, about 100 miles west, as essentially the same land, with the same mix of game. The Bushmen don't.
"I like my territory, not here," said Gabologwe Ratoto, a woman who appeared to be about 70 and left Molapo several months ago to visit her children in New Xade. "What I fear is that we will be killed in New Xade because they have guns."
Just five months ago, many of these same villagers said in interviews that they would never leave the game reserve. They had been trucked out before, in 2002, and discovered that they were miserable in New Xade, where unemployment and alcoholism are common.
Yet this week an air of defeat had settled around many of the Bushmen in New Xade. Deprived of water and food, harassed and threatened by guns, they said, they relented and once again got on the government trucks to New Xade.
Their only other choice, they said, was to die.
"I was told, 'If you stay, you will be killed,' " said Khumanego Lentodi, 40, from Metsiamanong. " 'You will go to New Xade dead.' "