Court Ruling: Botswana Bushmen Denied Access to Water


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It's an old battle, and a cruel one. The Botswana government wants the Bushmen of the Kalahari off of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of the driest areas of the world but also one the bushmen have called home for thousands of years. Labeling them essentially poachers and squatters, the government uses water as a tool to remove the indigenous people. At first it was by removing them from land they didn't have legal right to, but after winning rights to their ancestral land, the Botswana government switched tactics. In 2002, officials capped a well used by the Bushmen and a long legal battle for rights to water has ensued. However, a judge has just ruled that the Bushmen are not only not entitled to access to the existing borehole, but they're not allowed to drill another, nor can Bushmen living outside the reserve bring water in to their relatives still living on their land within the reserve -- effectively cutting them off from what few reliable water supplies exist. According to Survival International:

In 2006, the forced evictions of the Bushmen were declared illegal and unconstitutional by the High Court, and hundreds have since returned to their lands. Despite the ruling, the government banned the Bushmen from re-commissioning the borehole, leaving them to face what the UN's top official on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, described as, 'harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water'.

At the same time, Wilderness Safaris opened a luxury tourist lodge, complete with bar and swimming pool, on Bushman land; the government drilled new boreholes in the reserve to provide water for wildlife with funding from the Tiffany & Co Foundation; and Gem Diamonds was given environmental clearance to mine in the reserve on condition the Bushmen could not use any of its water.

This situation perfectly highlights the plight of poor logic and greed within the human species -- and it also highlights short-term thinking, since the bushmen of the Kalahari have the knowledge and skills that more people will have to rely upon as freshwater supplies dwindle worldwide.

Outlined in a book entitled Heart of Dryness, author James G. Workman describes how the bushmen's mentality about water, from conservation to appreciation, is one that we need to adopt on a global scale.

As Workman states in an interview posted on Circle of Blue, "I won't glamorize Bushmen, or urge us to imitate them. But their code of conduct works so well, as ours falters, that I question who is really 'backward.' Our so-called "more developed societies" still irrigate deserts, collapse atop depleted aquifers, amputate currents, blend urine and feces with tap water, kill salmon runs with dams, and evaporate more water than we consume. Because of such profligate waste--according to World Economic Forum or Goldman Sachs--we're now hitting a wall, a limit to growth; well, Bushmen have lived with that wall for 30,000 years. Their proven strategies point us toward a softer, alternative approach, and they do so with laughter and dance."

All of Africa is experiencing increasing water shortages due to changing climates and mis-use, and the situation will only get worse as the many factors -- from population growth to pollution to desertification -- collide and dry up the continent's fresh water sources. Yet, the Botswana government seems little inclined to care about what knowledge necessary to surviving in a dry future could be gleaned from these bushmen. Instead, they seem to have tunnel vision aimed at profit only. This ruling proves it.

According to Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources, Authorities in Botswana are also preventing Bushmen from bringing their relatives water via donkeys. With very limited access to motorized vehicles and now no ability to use the primary method of transporting water, those Bushmen living on ancestral lands will be facing dire situations during the dry season.

The site notes, "The move suggests the government is stepping up its long-running campaign to force the Bushmen out of their ancestral homeland and into government resettlement camps. The new policy appears to be in clear breach of Regulation 25(1) of the National Parks and Game Reserves Regulations which provides that anyone can enter the Reserve 'by means of... riding a horse, camel, donkey or other animal approved by the Director'. It is presumably on this basis that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has said that 'Animal back safaris (camel, horseback, etc.) must be permitted and encouraged' in 'low density tourism zones' including areas of the CKGR. What is not acceptable when a Bushman does it is, apparently, perfectly acceptable when a tourist does it. One pays money and the other does not."

Bushman spokesman, Jumanda Gakelebone, said, 'This is very bad. If we don't have water, how are we expected to live? The court gave us our land, but without the borehole, without water, our lives are difficult.'

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Tags: Africa | Blue August | Drinking Water | Water Crisis