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Botswana Bushmen to Take Their Case to High Court

  • Joe DeCapua

On Wednesday (6/9), Botswana’s High Court is due to hear the case of Bushmen, who want the government to unseal a water borehole in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The borehole is a main source of water for the Bushmen. However, despite winning a 2006 court case that overturned their eviction from the reserve, the borehole remains unavailable to them.

One of the groups supporting the Bushmen’s case is Survival International. In London, Fiona Watson, the group’s field and research director, says, “The main issue is one of access to water. In the 2006 High Court case, the judges ruled that the Bushmen had been evicted illegally and unconstitutionally from their land.”

Survival International believes that ruling also included the right to have access to water.

“The government has chosen to interpret the ruling very narrowly. Because the judges said the government itself wasn’t obliged to provide services like water to the Bushmen. But, of course, if they’re to live on their land and enjoy their full rights, they need water,” she says.

The Bushmen plan to tell the court that since the borehole is on their land they should have access to it.

“So, you can imagine in one of the driest, harshest parts of the world where there’s very little rainfall, if you don’t have access to the water, this is extremely serious and creating enormous hardship for the Bushmen,” says Watson.

Long distance

Watson says without the borehole, Bushmen have few choices. One is to travel hours to find water outside the game reserve. But she says the few vehicles they have are old, adding they have little money for petrol.

Water can be gathered after rains in shallow depressions in the ground called pans. But the rains are intermittent. Wild melons are also a source of water, but they’re not always in season.

The prince is coming

Once the High Court hears the case, it’s unclear when a decision will be handed down.

“I think it’s really hard to say. We don’t know how long the case will go on for. I mean it’s a fairly straight forward case purely focusing on the question of access to water,” says Watson.

Prince William is scheduled to visit Botswana soon and the Bushmen have appealed to him for support.

Watson says the Bushmen know that the prince’s godfather, “Laurens van der Post, who traveled and lived with the Bushmen and wrote about them many years ago, introduced some Bushmen to Prince Charles (William’s father).

She says the Bushmen are “hoping I assume that he might be able to put in a good word for them or at least publicize their plight.”

The Botswana government has said it wanted to relocate the Bushmen from the reserve so they would have access to social and health programs and education. Survival International has accused the government of trying to evict the Bushmen because of diamond mining potential on the Bushmen’s ancestral lands.

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