Botswana high court rules against water rights for Bushmen

Botswana high court rules against water rights for Bushmen

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[JURIST] The Botswana High Court [SAFLII database] ruled Wednesday that the indigenous Bushmen [National Geographic backgrounder], or San, people will not be able to reopen a water well or dig new wells in their village in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve [official website]. The Bushmen applied for permission to use a borehole [BBC report], originally dug by diamond company De Beers [corporate website] in the 1980s, as a water well on their ancestral land located in the Kalahari desert. Judge Lashkavinder Walia denied [AFP report] the tribe’s application, stating that they needed to specify how much water they intended to pump from the borehole in order to comply with water regulations and calling on the government to further clarify water regulations. Director of Survival International [advocacy website], Stephen Corry, called on tourists and consumers [press release] to consider the country’s treatment of its indigenous people before planning trips and making purchases:

In the last ten years Botswana has become one of the harshest places in the world for indigenous peoples. If Bushmen are to be denied water on their lands when it is freely provided for tourists, animals, and diamond mines, then foreigners should be asked if they really want to support this regime with their visits and jewellery [sic] shopping.

Tourist areas as well as diamond claims are located within miles of the game reserve [AP report], and the closest source of water for the Bushmen is 25 miles from their village. The Botswana government has argued that the tribe’s village in the game reserve is not a formal settlement and, therefore, the government is not required to provide the Bushmen with water. The Bushmen are considered to be the first inhabitants of southern Africa, with ancestors occupying the Kalahari Desert region for 20,000 years. They are expected to appeal this most recent decision.

The tribe was evicted from the game reserve from 1997 to 2002 and forced to reside in settlement camps. The Bushmen contend the eviction was the result of the government attempting to make room for diamond claims and tourist areas, whereas the government cited the Bushmen’s negative effect on conservation as the motivation behind the relocation. The borehole was sealed in 2002 in an additional effort to drive the tribe from the land. In 2006, the High Court ruled [JURIST report] that the government’s eviction was “unlawful and unconstitutional” and allowed the Bushmen return to the area. Spokesmen for the tribe announced in January [JURIST report] that they plan to take the land dispute issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website; JURIST news archive] because the government continues to ignore court orders granting land rights. In March, Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] called upon the UN to declare access to safe drinking water a basic human right [JURIST report].