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New Campaign Calls for Botswanan Bushmen Water Rights

Survival International is launching a letter writing campaign to the new president of Botswana, Lt. General Ian Khama. The campaign asks the Botswanan government to allow Bushmen on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – their ancestral land – to have access to water.

Although the Bushmen won a court case in 2006 in which their eviction from the reserve was declared illegal, the government has not allowed those who returned access to a major borehole. The borehole, which is cemented over, had been the Bushmen’s main source of water.

Survival International accuses the government of wanting the land for a diamond mind and vacation resorts. The government says it can only provide health and education services outside the game reserve.

Fiona Watson is the campaign’s coordinator for Survival International. From London, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“This campaign is focusing on the question of water. This is a very, very fundamental question. And the government of Botswana has continued to refuse to let the Bushmen open up the borehole, which they used before they were evicted. This borehole is right in the center of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and it is used by all the Bushmen communities, or at least was used. Obviously without water, which is a very basic fundamental human right, they cannot survive in that very arid area,” she says.

The borehole is located in a community called Mothomelo. “The government is saying that it’s not obliged to provide services to the Bushmen inside the reserve. And the Bushmen’s response to that is that doesn’t matter. We will do it ourselves, but what we won’t be able to do is to open up this borehole. It’s our water. It’s our land. We have the right to do that.”

The borehole opening has been cemented over since the 2002 evictions, and Survival International accuses the government of trying to make life difficult for the Bushmen so those who returned to the reserve will leave. The government denies it is trying to harm them.

“Survival has always maintained that the real reason the government evicted the Bushmen was not to provide them with better services, because clearly that’s not the case. In the relocation camps, where most of the Bushmen are now languishing, conditions are terrible. They’re suffering from HIV/AIDS, which they never knew before. Rates of alcoholism are shooting up. People are bored. People are depressed…. Survival has always said the real reason has to do with diamonds. The area is very rich in diamonds. And in fact, recently, DeBeers sold its concession there to GemDiamonds, who are now going ahead with a $2.2 billion mine in the area; and they didn’t want the Bushmen to be on the land, didn’t want them to contest the mine or claim royalties,” she says.

Watson also says, “The government is now offering up for tender concessions for tourist companies to open up luxury lodges in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. So you can imagine the impact of having tourists there. You will need huge amounts of water, far more water than the Bushmen ever need.”

Watson says the new Botswanan president has a “chance to change things… Surely the Botswanan government, the new government, one would hope would look to the future and simply say, ok, we lost in the court, we’ll just let them go back and live how they wish and uphold both the country’s own constitution and international law.”

Ian Khama was inaugurated president Tuesday in a country reports say is the world’s biggest producer of diamonds.