Botswana government in the dock over 'human right to water'

By staff writers
June 2, 2010

Kalahari Bushmen are taking the government of Botswana to court over what they describe as its refusal to allow them access to a water borehole on their own land.

They say that they have made many attempts to negotiate with the government over the issue before initiating the court case “to assert their basic human right to water”.

The borehole was capped when the Bushmen were evicted from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002. Four years later, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the eviction had been unconstitutional and hundreds of Bushmen have since gone back home.

But the Bushmen are still denied access to the water borehole, which they insist is their own source of water in the Reserve.

They explain that despite living in one of the world’s driest regions, they are forced to make an arduous 300-mile round trip to obtain water outside the Reserve. One Bushman has died of dehydration since the borehole was capped.

"The High Court said we have the right to live on the land of our ancestors, surely that includes the right to drink our water,” said Jumanda Gakelebone, a Bushman from the Reserve, yesterday (1 June).

He added, “Many Bushmen, especially the old people and the young, are suffering from lack of water. It pains us that the animals and tourists on our land can drink our water to their heart’s content yet we go thirsty. We pray that the court will give us back our water.”

The UN’s top official on indigenous rights, Professor James Anaya, has also condemned the government for its treatment of the Bushmen, stating that it falls short of the “relevant international human rights standards”.

He found that Bushmen in the reserve “face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water”, and called on the government to reactivate the borehole “as a matter of urgent priority”.

The Bushmen's legal challenge has been backed by Survival International. The case is due to be heard at Botswana’s High Court in Lobatse on 9 June 2010.


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