Africa's oldest inhabitants pitched against autocratic Botswana government are forced to truck water 300 miles across desert
The Kalahari Bushmen are to appeal against a decision by the Botswana high court forbidding them to use a well in the central Kalahari game reserve, one of the driest regions in the world, a spokesman announced today.
The Bushmen, Africa's oldest inhabitants, won a ruling in 2006 against eviction from the game park, hailed as a victory for indigenous peoples around the world. Hundreds returned to their home villages but they have been prevented from reopening the well or drilling a new one.
The government argued that the Bushmen's presence in the reserve was not compatible with preserving wildlife and that living in such harsh conditions offered few prospects. The Bushmen took their case to the high court, and the judge this week ruled against them.
"The decision doesn't make any sense," said a community spokesman, Jumanda Gakelebone. "We are going to appeal."
For now, the 500 Bushmen have to truck in water from the nearest settlement with a public borehole, 300 miles away.
Survival International, a British charity that supports indigenous peoples' rights, described the decision as outrageous and accused the Botswana government of wanting to drive out the Bushmen. "The government wants them out," said Fiona Watson, its Africa expert. "They have contempt for the Bushmen's way of life."
The government capped a borehole in 2002 to drive the Bushmen out of the reserve. Despite the 2006 ruling, the government banned recommissioning of the borehole, leaving the Bushmen facing what the UN's top official on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, described as "harsh and dangerous conditions" due to a lack of access to water". Meanwhile, the Wilderness Safaris company opened a luxury tourist lodge, complete with bar and swimming pool, on Bushman land; the government drilled boreholes for wildlife with funding from the Tiffany & Co Foundation; and Gem Diamonds was cleared to mine in the reserve on condition that the Bushmen could not use its water.
In recent years the president of Botswana, Ian Khama, has faced growing accusations of autocracy and intolerance of dissent. The former military chief of general staff was born in Chertsey, Surrey, and educated at Sandhurst. Last year, the Law Society of South Africa said human rights lawyers in Botswana were being prevented from seeing their clients. It linked the Botswana Defence Force with up to 12 killings of criminal suspects.
A new political party was launched in May after breaking away from Khama's ruling Botswana Democratic Party, which has been in power some 44 years, citing strong differences with the president. The split came after some MPs were suspended for what Khama, the son of Botswana's founding father, Seretse Khama, described as indiscipline.
"In the last 10 years, Botswana has become one of the harshest places in the world for indigenous peoples," said the director of Survival International, Stephen Corry. "If Bushmen are to be denied water on their lands when it is freely provided it for tourists, animals and diamond mines, then foreigners should be asked if they really want to support this regime with their visits and jewellery shopping."