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Human Rights Group Says Tourism Site Would Get Water, But Not Botswana Bushmen

In Botswana, there are new developments Friday on the controversy over bushmen efforts to regain full access to their traditional lands. Bushmen were evicted from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve several years ago but won a court case allowing their return.

However, only a small number have gone back and the Botswanan government has refused to grant them hunting permits or allow them access to a borehole they had once used for water.

Friday, there’s word the government has awarded a South African company the right to build a tourist lodge in the game reserve.

Steven Corry is director of Survival International (SI), which has been defending Bushmen’s rights. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the use of boreholes in the game reserve.

“There is an exploratory diamond mine, which is being turned into a real diamond mine. That’s got obviously boreholes. And now the government has sold a tender …to a South African company which is going to build a tourist lodge near one of the Bushmen communities. They obviously are going to need boreholes for water for their tourists and of course water holes to attract the game. Meanwhile, the government is still saying the Bushmen cannot have access to the borehole in their own community. And they’re saying this is because of conservation reasons,” he says.

Corry says the Bushmen who returned to the reserve rely on rain and melons for water. “A lot of them haven’t gone back into the reserve after being evicted by the government in 2002 precisely because of this water problem. And there’s been drought in Botswana for several years now,” he says.

The SI director says blocking the Bushmen from using boreholes violates international law. “Yes, indeed, and it also violates Botswana’s own laws,” he says. After the Bushmen were evicted from the game reserve in 2002, they took the government to court over the next four years. The court declared the evictions illegal. “It said that preventing them, for example, having hunting permits, preventing them having water was tantamount to condemning them to death by starvation. And the government is still refusing to issue any hunting permits. The Bushmen are asking for the situation as it was only four or five years ago. That’s to say they should be allowed to hunt and they should have access to the water in this borehole as they used to for decades,” he says.

The tender was offered, according to Survival International, to the Safari & Adventure Company of South Africa, which it says also operates tourism businesses in Namibia and Zambia. Corry says his organization will be in contact with the firm in the near future.

“We will point out that it is simply unacceptable for there to be tourists drinking their gins and tonics and water close to a community of Bushmen who are denied water and who are in fact denied the right even to hunt. Basically they’re denied the right to get food or water,” he says.

The Bushmen have been considering further legal action against the Botswanan government, which says it evicted them so they could receive medical and social services. Critics say the health of the Bushmen has deteriorated in the relocation camps.