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article imageJudge denies Botswana's Kalahari San people their water rights

By Stephanie Dearing     Jul 21, 2010 in World
Driven from the Kalahari Preserve by a government intent on accomodating diamond mining interests, Botswana's San people won the right to return to their land in 2006. Since then the San say the government has denied their rights to water.
The San claim the government is discriminating against them by refusing them access to a desert borehole (well) on their traditional lands while allowing a luxury tourist lodge and a diamond mine access to water.
The argument over access to water caps 13 years of struggle over land rights for the San. The finding of diamonds in a preserve established for the San people and wildlife quickly turned into a contest for the desert resources, pitting the government of Botswana against the San. Survival International said the government forcibly evicted the San from the preserve "In three big clearances, in 1997, 2002 and 2005, virtually all the Bushmen were forced out. Their homes were dismantled, their school and health post were closed, their water supply was destroyed and the people were threatened and trucked away."
The San's attempt to gain legal access to water hit a wall in Botswana's high court Wednesday, when Judge Lashkavinder Walia ruled against them, reported the Associated Press. The judge said the San had failed to stipulate how much water they would take, which violated national regulations.
Survival International said the San were outraged. "Bushman spokesman, Jumanda Gakelebone, said, ‘This is very bad. If we don’t have water, how are we expected to live? The court gave us our land, but without the borehole, without water, our lives are difficult.’" The San may appeal the decision.
Survival International said most of the San live in settlement camps just outside the preserve, even though they won back their rights to live on the preserve in 2006, because they have no access to water on the preserve. The San say they are also being prevented from hunting for food on the preserve. About 1,000 San are seeking to return to the Kalahari preserve.
Some San live on the preserve, but they are now reliant on water. Earlier this month, an attempt by some San to take water to family members living on the preserve was blocked by preserve officials. The Botswana Gazette reported the San do not have vehicles and were using donkeys to carry the water, and officials objected to the donkeys.
The government refuses to truck water to San camps in the preserve. Survival International says that without access to their borehole, the San must travel 300 miles to obtain water.
Botswana has allowed Wilderness Safaris to run an "eco-friendly" luxury tourist vacation destination based in the Kalahari preserve. Guests stay in a solar-powered camp that boasts a swimming pool. Ironically, the Kalahari camp offers "... an interpretive "Bushman Walk" with a couple of our staff members, where guests gain life-changing insights into the unique culture of this fascinating people." Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International told the Botswana Gazette, "When they realise what’s going on, ethical tourists won’t want to go to areas where they have rights explicitly denied to the indigenous peoples. Botswana says it wants more tourists, yet its actions couldn’t be better designed to put them off. The country’s relentless oppression of its first citizens is yet another nail in the coffin of its reputation."
Botswana has also allowed the Gope mine, owned by Gem Diamonds, to resume operations in the Kalahari preserve. Originally owned and operated by De Beers and sold to Gem Diamonds, the operation was on hold due to the recession. The company announced it would begin operations this year.
Xoroxloo Duxee died of dehydration after the Bushmen s water borehole was disabled.
Xoroxloo Duxee died of dehydration after the Bushmen's water borehole was disabled.
Survival International
The San are known as "the oldest known lineage of [the] modern human..." Traditionally, the San were hunter-gatherers living in the Kalahari Desert. Once numbering over one million people, there are only 100,000 San people left in Africa.
Depending on where they live, the San have differing rights. In Botswana, the lack of rights for the San has been a concern for the United Nations.
Historically, the San faced persecution from the colonial Dutch, who 'launched an extermination campaign.' While some point to historical accounts of the invasion of San lands by the cattle-herding Bantu, it was the arrival of the Dutch in the 1600s that decimated the population of the San. In a gruesome legacy, the Boers hunted the San for sport and kidnapped the San for slave labour.
Wells in the Kalahari desert meant the San lost their traditional lands to cattle interests, said the National Geographic.
Because their knowledge is "alive," transmission relies on a combination of teaching and experience. Preventing the San from living traditionally means their knowledge is lost over time. A South African initiative, !Khwa ttu seeks to preserve the knowledge of the San people.
A paper written by James Suzman outlines the complex issues facing the San.
More about Kalahari bushmen, San people, Water rights, Land rights, Human Rights
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