Monday is World Tourism Day and Survival International is using the occasion as part of its campaign to help the Bushmen of Botswana.
Despite winning a court case allowing them to return to their ancestral lands several years ago, the Bushmen have been denied access to a vital water borehole. A court recently ruled against them on the issue and the Bushmen are appealing.
“We’re calling for a boycott of Botswana tourism,” says Fiona Watson, Survival’s field and research director. “And that is because of the situation with the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The government is continuing to persecute them and is denying them the right to water.”
The government had capped the borehole as part of its effort to remove the indigenous people from the reserve, she says.
“So, we’re calling for this boycott to show tourists how this supposedly democratic government is treating some of its most vulnerable citizens,” says Watson. “Hopefully, they will look at the ethics of the situation.”
The Bushmen went to court several months ago to try to gain access to the borehole. However, the court ruled against them.
“It was unsuccessful,” says Watson, “So the Bushmen have decided to appeal against the judge’s ruling.” The appeal could be heard early next year.
Legal battles on behalf of the Bushmen have been going on for years. Survival International has been their leading defender and took one case to Botswana’s High Court.
“I think we have actually a lot of success. I mean the fact that…three judges ruled that they’d been unconstitutionally and illegally evicted and had the right to go back and live on their land and to hunt was a tremendous, positive step forward,” she says.
Watson blames the government and not the Botswanan people.
“The solution is extremely simple. The Bushmen are not asking for aid. They’re not asking for the government to provide services to them. What they’re simply saying is let us open the borehole ourselves…and that would be the end of the story,” she says.
Botswanan President Ian Khama is on the board of Conservation International. But Survival International says he’s been quoted as describing the Bushmen way of life as an “archaic fantasy.”
Watson says they have appealed directly to the president. “We’ve actually also appealed to the president of Conservation International, saying we find it totally incomprehensible that an organization like that could have on its board somebody who’s actively persecuting the Bushmen.
The government denies it’s persecuting the Bushmen. It says the relocation was done to ensure Bushmen had access to health and social services.
Watson says as the legal fight goes on, “many Bushmen are languishing in resettlement camps.” She says the organization has also appealed to Wilderness Safaris, who’s opened up a tourist camp in the reserve.
“I think their line is totally unacceptable. They say, Well, we’ve done everything. We’ve built our camp with government authorization, but they have not consulted with the Bushmen on whose land the camp is. So, this is really quite extraordinary for a company which professes on its website to be ethical and to work in consultation with local communities,” she says.
Wilderness Safaris describes itself as a responsible ecotourism and conservation company. It says it believes in protecting wilderness areas, biodiversity and local communities.
“We are calling on this company to sit down and consult with the Bushmen, who are not benefitting at all from this development on their land.
Watson says it’s ironic that tourists have greater access to water in the game reserve than the Bushmen.
Survival International mining operations are also planned for the game reserve.