As the world marks World Water Day, the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of Botswana are marking eight years without access to a regular supply of water in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In 2002, the Botswana government cut off and sealed a borehole, which the Bushmen relied on for water, in an attempt to drive them out of the reserve. Despite the Botswana High Court’s 2006 ruling that the Bushmen have the constitutional right to live in the reserve, the government has refused to allow them to re-commission their borehole, even though they have offered to raise the costs themselves.
At the same time as forcing the Bushmen to make 300 mile round trips to fetch water, the government has allowed the opening of a safari lodge in the reserve, complete with a swimming pool for tourists, and has drilled new boreholes for wildlife only.
The government’s treatment of the Bushmen was recently condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples, who accused it of falling short of ‘the relevant international human rights standards’. He also found that those Bushmen who have returned to the reserve ‘face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water’ and urged the government to reactivate the Bushmen’s borehole ‘as a matter of urgent priority’.
Since the ruling, many Bushmen have returned to their ancestral lands inside the reserve. However, without access to their borehole, they face severe water shortages; at least one woman has died from dehydration since the borehole was cut off. Many more languish in the resettlement camps where they were dumped by the government, anxious about returning to their lands without access to a regular supply of water.
Over 2,000 days since their water supply was cut off, the Bushmen have now launched legal proceedings against the government in a bid to gain access to their borehole.