Botswana’s Bushmen Denied Access to Water

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Bushmen Mother and children in the Kalahari Reserve before eviction to a resettlement camp (Photo courtesy of Fiona Watson/Survival International)
Bushmen Mother and children in the Kalahari Reserve before eviction to a resettlement camp (Photo courtesy of Fiona Watson/Survival International)


Botswana’s Central Kalahari Bushmen are once again being forced from their ancestral lands as the country’s courts decide this week whether the Bushmen should have access to a local water supply.  Kalahari Bushmen are an indigenous hunter-gatherer people of the desert interior of Botswana.  They were evicted from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002 and allowed to return in 2006 after Botswana’s High Court declared their forced removal unconstitutional.  Since 2006, the government has banned the Bushmen from hunting in the reserve and denied them access to the only local well by sealing it, a well the Bushmen claim they have been using for decades.  Bushmen have to walk long distances, often outside the reserve, in order to collect water.

The government claims that allowing the Bushmen to draw from the well would be incompatible with the goals of the Central Kalahari reserve.  However, since the bushmen returned to the reserve, Botswana’s government has allowed the company, Wilderness Safaris, to build a safari resort complete with a pool, on the reserve.  Additionally, on the same day the Bushmen appealed the water decision in court last week, Botswana granted Gem Diamonds a 3 billion dollar contract to mine in the reserve.  Gem Diamonds and the government claim they have the consent of the Bushmen whose land they will be on.  Survival International, an advocacy group for tribal people, has been helping the Bushmen represent themselves in court.  On Wednesday, Survival Director Stephen Corry said, “How can people who are denied water to force them out of the reserve possibly be in a position to give their free and informed consent?”

Botswana’s actions regarding the Bushmen are drawing criticism from several organizations, including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the U.N.  A U.N. official on indigenous people went so far as to say the conditions in the Kalahari Reserve are ‘harsh and dangerous’.  Survival International has increased its efforts to improve the life of the Bushmen.  The group is encouraging the international community to boycott Botswana tourism and diamonds until the Bushmen’s land rights are recognized by the government.  In a statement to Survival International, one Bushmen said:

We are still hoping, not to be given anything, but simply for justice and our rights. The government hopes that by denying us water, it will force us from the reserve once more[. . .] It must know[n] by now that we are determined to live with our ancestors on the land we have known since time began.

For more information, please see;

CNN- Leaked Cable: U.S. Envoy Criticized Botswana on Bushmen– 21 Jan., 2011

The Botswana Gazette- Survival Protesters Target International Tourism Fair in Madrid– 23 Jan., 2011

Africanews.com- Kalahari Bushmen to Fight Court Ruling– 18 Jan., 2011

Independent Media Centre Australia- Botswana Approves$3BN Mine as Bushmen Water Case Gets Underway– 19 Jan., 2011

Mail & Guardian Online- ‘Thirsty’ Bushmen Go to Appeal Court– 21 Jan., 2011

Author: Impunity Watch Archive

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