On 17 January 2011, Botswana’s Court of Appeal will begin a hearing to decide whether Kalahari Bushmen living on their ancestral lands have the right to water.
The Bushmen, who returned to their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve after a previous court victory, are appealing against a 2010 High Court ruling that denied their right to access a well in the reserve they had used for decades.
The 2010 ruling, which came a week before the UN formally recognised water as a fundamental human right, has been slammed by Africa’s key human rights body for denying the Bushmen’s ‘right to life’.
Without the well, the Bushmen are forced to make arduous journeys by foot or donkey to fetch water from outside the reserve.
With talks with the government having failed, the Bushmen turned to the courts to gain access to their well. Survival International, the NGO defending the rights of indigenous people, says that the Bushmen, who are simply seeking permission to use the well, are appealing on the grounds that the denial of water subjects them to inhuman and degrading treatment.
At the same time as banning the Bushmen from accessing water, the Botswana government has drilled new wells for wildlife in the reserve, and is due to give Gem Diamonds the go ahead to mine at one of the Bushman communities. It also allowed Wilderness Safaris to erect a luxury tourist lodge on Bushman land in the reserve, complete with a bar and swimming pool for tourists.
President Khama, whose nephew and personal lawyer sit on the board of directors of Wilderness Safaris, has previously described the Bushmen’s way of life as ‘an archaic fantasy’, and recently referred to them as ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’.
One Bushman from the region who wished to remain anonymous, said, ‘We are still hoping, not to be given anything, but simply for justice and our rights. The government hopes that by denying us water, it will force us from the reserve once more. It must know by now that we are determined to live with our ancestors on the land we have known since time began.’