Botswana: Bushmen granted water rights (Mail & Guardian, Survival International, OSISA)

| February 7, 2011

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In late January, Botswana’s Court of Appeal granted Kalahari Bushmen access to water on their ancestral land. This overturned an earlier high court judgment that prevented them from using a borehole on which they rely.

The Kalahari has been the Basarwa Bushmen’s home for tens of thousands of years. The Bushmen are traditionally hunter-gatherers. Since the 1990s, the Botswana government has tried to move the Bushmen from their ancestral land into newly created reserves.

The appeal court judges found that the Bushmen have the right to use their established borehole, and to sink new boreholes. Ordering the government to pay legal costs, the judges also found that the government’s conduct towards the Bushmen amounted to “degrading treatment.”

The government argued that the Basarwa’s presence in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is not compatible with preserving wildlife. However, new wells have been drilled for wildlife, while luxury tourist lodges have been built in the disputed territory. Botswana’s government also approved a 3 billion dollar diamond mine in a Bushmen community.

Basarwa activist and resident Amohelang Segotsane says, “I am happy with the judgment but not completely happy. Government was supposed to give us water without going through the legal process.” Mr. Segotsane said they want to be treated as citizens and enjoy the same rights as others in Botswana.

Jeff Ramsay is a coordinator for the Botswana Government Communications and Information System. He says the government will respect the appeal court’s decision: “We are a nation that is governed by the rule of law and always have been. Of course we will respect the decision of the courts.”

In 2002, the Bushmen were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve by the Botswana government. The Bushmen took the government to court. In 2006, another court allowed the Bushmen to return to their desert-like homelands. However, the government reacted by banning the Bushmen from using a well which it had capped during the eviction. This forced them to travel outside the reserve to access water.

Despite the lack of water, some Bushmen remained, surviving off rainwater and melons, and fetching water from outside the reserve.

Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International, a UK-based NGO which has supported the Bushmen through the legal process. He says, “This is a great victory for the Bushmen and also for Botswana as a whole. We hope it will be embraced as such by the authorities and not be seen as just an obstacle to their attempts to get the Bushmen off their lands for diamond mining.”



Read more about the Appeal Court ruling at these two sites:

The Bushmen have their own website:

Read more about the Bushmen here: