Kalahari Bushmen Take Botswana Government To Court Over Water Rights

Kalahari Bushmen are taking the government of Botswana to court over its refusal to allow them access to a water borehole on their land.

The case is due to be heard at Botswana’s High Court in Lobatse on 9 June 2010.

When the government evicted the Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in 2002, it capped the borehole, the only source of water for the Bushman communities in the Reserve.

In 2006 Botswana’s High Court ruled that the government had acted unconstitutionally External linkwhen it evicted the Bushmen and said they had the right to return to the Reserve. Hundreds of Bushmen have since gone back home.

Despite the Bushmen’s repeated attempts to negotiate with the government, it still refuses to let them use the water borehole.

The Bushmen, who live in one of the world’s driest regions, are forced to make an arduous 300 mile round trip to obtain water outside the reserve. Since the borehole was capped one Bushman has died of dehydration.

In desperation the Bushmen are going to court to assert their basic human right to water.

The UN’s top official on indigenous rights, Professor James Anaya, has also condemned the government for its treatment of the Bushmen, stating that it falls short of the ‘relevant international human rights standards’. He found that Bushmen in the reserve ‘face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water’, and called on the government to reactivate the borehole ‘as a matter of urgent priority’.

Jumanda Gakelebone, a Bushman from the CKGR, said today ‘The High Court said we have the right to live on the land of our ancestors. Surely that includes the right to drink our water. Many Bushmen, especially the old people and the young are suffering from lack of water. It pains us that the animals and tourists on our land can drink our water to their heart’s content yet we go thirsty. We pray that the court will give us back our water.’

Map location of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

CKGR Bushmen Water Case

Summary of the issues

For many years the borehole at Mothomelo was the only reliable source of water for the Bushman communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). When the Botswana government evicted the Bushmen from the Reserve in 2002 it removed the pump and capped the borehole in case they tried to go back. Despite a 2006 High Court order that the Bushmen have a constitutional right to do just that, the Government refuses to allow them to recommission the borehole - even at their own expense. The Bushmen have now asked the Court to try to overturn this decision.

The Government admits that it has kept the borehole closed because it does not want any Bushmen to live in the Reserve. It says that this might ‘endanger the life of wild animals’. If as a result the many Bushmen who returned to their homes in the wake of the Court ruling suffer acutely from a shortage of water, the government maintains they have only themselves to blame - because ‘they have chosen to stay in a place where there is no water.’

The Bushmen say this is nonsense: there is plenty of water at Mothomelo - it’s just that they need the borehole to get at it. They point out that they are merely trying to exercise their lawful rights, and that the Government seems determined not only to flout the order of the Court but to deny them their human right to water. They believe that without the borehole the lives of the young, the elderly and infirm are especially at risk.

The US Department of State is one of many international observers who have been critical of the Government’s approach. Another is the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, who recently reported to the UN Human Rights Council that the Government’s denial of services to the Bushman communities in the Reserve ‘does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit and underlying logic of the 2006 decision, nor with the relevant international human rights standards ... Indigenous people who have remained or returned to the reserve face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water, a situation that could be easily remedied by reactivating the boreholes in the reserve. The Government should reactive the boreholes or otherwise secure access to water for inhabitants of the reserve as a matter of urgent priority.’ We should know within the next few weeks whether the Botswana High Court shares this view, and is prepared once again come to the aid of the country’s most vulnerable communities in their struggle against an apparently intransigent Government.

Source: Survival International

Tags: Botswana  Bushmen  water  government  CKGR  

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