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Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink… July 26, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Nature, Saving the World, Social Media, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
Tags: , , , , ,

Need enough water to fill a swimming pool for tourists on the arid Kalahari reserve? Operate a diamond mine? No problem, according to the Botswana government. But the Bushmen of the Kalahari have been denied the right to access drinking water on their own land, in one of the driest regions on earth.

For years the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana have been fighting for the simple right to live on their own land. In 2006 they won a major court battle: they were allowed to return after repeated government attempts to force them into resettlement camps were ruled illegal and unconstitutional. A victory…or so it seemed until last Wednesday.

On July 21, the Bushmen were told by the High Court of Botswana that, though they can live on their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, they cannot drink the water found beneath them. They may not use the already existing borehole or drill a new one. Even friends outside the reserve are barred from bringing them water. In one of the most arid regions on earth, its ancestral inhabitants have been told that they have no right to this most basic and precious necessity of life.

It isn’t as though there’s just not enough to go around. Oh no, Wilderness Safaris’ luxury tourist hotel on the reserve has been granted water – a whole swimming pool of it for wealthy tourists to bask in on their getaways. A lucrative diamond mine (Gem Diamonds), also located on the Bushmen’s land, has given the go-ahead for operations…on one condition: it can’t give any water to the Bushmen (in case some of its workers should be tempted by, say, basic human compassion or something equally dreadful.)

Ah, but wait, there’s one act of apparent altruism the Botswana government has undertaken: in recent years it has in fact drilled several new boreholes in the Kalahari Reserve to provide water for the benefit of…wildlife. (In other words, to benefit the tourists that come to the reserve for safaris, and hence, Botswana’s tourist industry.)

The irony and unbelievable injustice is such that this story could easily be mistaken for satire. But it’s not. Nor is it just “discrimination.” This is out and out attempted genocide, as one of my Twitter friends put it. Years of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and forced relocation, confiscation of their livestock, deliberately preventing those who have returned from hunting or gathering food, and now the denial of water to an entire people can amount to nothing else.

The Bushmen aren’t asking for much. In their own words, this is their only plea: “I want to go home.”

When the evictions happened in 2002…we suffered because they just dumped us in New Xade and left us there. We were given tents and then from there, we started building out own huts. There was nothing there for us. We didn’t know what to do. We just spent our days cooking and building huts, waiting for our food. We missed the land. We missed how Metsiamanong looked and how we knew about the land. There was nothing good about New Xade.

We were very happy about the [2006] court ruling and were very pleased to come home. Here, we know where to find food and berries, we know the land and we know what to do. I will stay here forever. It is very difficult to live here without water. If the borehole at Mothomelo is opened, everything will be fine.

We are really starving without water. We want to ask the world to campaign for the re-opening of the borehole and to bring our goats back. It will make us sick to go back to Kaudwane [resettlement camp]. We don’t want to be beggars. We have our own rich ancestral lands. We want to stay here, we can get everything we need here. The area [Kaudwane] doesn’t belong to us. We have no powers over that area. Being given food is not good. In Kaudwane, if you don’t have food, you have to go and beg the government for it. Here, if we are hungry, we all go out and find some food.

This is a people that simply wants to live with dignity and pride in their rich cultural heritage. They don’t want government assistance or handouts: food or education or living expenses or cash. They’re not demanding a share in the luxurious safari tourist hotel or the diamond mine (which to my mind would be perfectly reasonable, given that it’s on their land). They’re not even asking the government to provide them with water, which one would think would be a given. This, one of the oldest cultures on our earth, only wants something very simple: the right to drill for water on their own lands and to hunt and gather food as they have done for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, without being harassed and terrorized. Nothing more.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has issued a video message in support of the Bushmen.

Please lend your voice as well to share their story and protest their inhumane treatment:

1) The best way you can help is simply by spreading awareness. Please share this blog post and Survival International’s article on your Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, blog or any other social media networks.

2) Write to the Botswana government (their e-mail is currently bouncing, unfortunately, but Survival has an online letter form you can use to easily print out a letter);

3) Write to your MP or MEP (UK) or Senators and members of Congress (US) or Member of Parliament (Canada). Inform them of the Bushmen’s ongoing struggle and, specifically, the June 21 court ruling. Ask them to apply pressure to the Botswana government to reverse this unjust and inhumane policy.

4) Write to your local Botswana high commission or embassy.

5) Visit the Bushmen’s own website and read their stories. You can also e-mail them or write to them with a message of support.

If you have any other ideas for campaigns of support (online or elsewhere) please post in the Comments section!

Thank you for reading.

The Contrapuntal Platypus



1. Water, water everywhere…(an hopeful postscript) « The Contrapuntal Platypus - July 29, 2010

[…] water everywhere…(an hopeful postscript) A follow-up to my July 26 post about the Kalahari Bushmen’s struggle with the Botswana government for […]

2. Edelmira Dochterman - August 4, 2010

OK nice to see- interesting comments are always helpful!

3. On Being a “Modernized” Society « The Contrapuntal Platypus - August 6, 2010

[…] news was announced: the former UN water advisor has condemned Botswana’s government in its denial of water to the Bushmen, just a week after the UN declared clean water and sanitation a basic human right. This is […]

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