Over 30 laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, known as the ‘alternative Nobel Prize’, have signed an open letter to President Khama of Botswana urging him to allow the Bushmen access to water.
The appeal comes as world experts arrive in Stockholm for World Water Week, and ahead of the Right Livelihood Award conference in Bonn, 14-19th September. It follows the UN’s adoption of water as a human right in July.
Describing the government’s actions as ‘inexcusable’, the laureates’ letter urges it to ‘allow the Bushmen access to water on their lands, and work with them to ensure a sustainable future for everyone’.
The laureates express concern for the welfare of the Bushmen of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, who have been banned from accessing a well which they rely on for water. ‘Without access to water, a fundamental human right’, the letter says, ‘they are struggling to sustain their way of live on their ancestral lands’.
In 2002, the Bushmen were evicted from their lands by the Botswana government and dumped in resettlement camps outside the reserve. With Survival’s help they took the government to court, and four years later won a landmark High Court ruling declaring their right to live in the reserve. In 2005, the Bushmen’s organization, First People of the Kalahari, was awarded an ‘alternative Nobel Prize’ for their struggle for their rights.
Despite the ruling, the government refuses to allow the Bushmen to recommission a well, which it sealed and capped during the 2002 evictions, forcing the Bushmen to make arduous journeys to fetch water from outside the reserve. At the same time, it has drilled new well for wildlife and allowed Wilderness Safaris to build a luxury tourist lodge with swimming pool on Bushman land. In the near future it is also likely to issue a licence for a diamond mine on Bushman land, for which new wells will be drilled, on condition that the mine will not provide water to the Bushmen.
In July, a High Court judge dismissed the Bushmen’s application for permission to use the well, expressing sympathy for the government’s argument that the Bushmen have ‘brought upon themselves any discomfort they may endure’.
Bushman spokesperson, Jumanda Gakelebone, said, ‘We are grateful to all the laureates for helping us. Khama should know that a lot of human rights activists all over the world are watching’.
The letter reads:
Dear President Khama,
We, the undersigned, all winners of the ‘alternative Nobel prize’, are greatly concerned for the welfare of our friends and fellow laureates, the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Without access to water, a fundamental human right, they are struggling to sustain their way of life on their ancestral lands.
All the Bushmen want is to be able to use a well which they used before they were illegally evicted from their lands. To deny them this is inexcusable.
We urge you to allow the Bushmen access to water on their lands, and work with them to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. In the words of Roy Sesana, ‘We aren’t here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren’.
Ibrahim Abouleish (Egypt)
Marcos Aran, International Baby Food Action Network (Mexico)
András Biró/Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (Hungary)
Carmel Budiardjo (UK)
Tony Clarke (Canada)
Erik Dammann/The Future in Our Hands (Norway)
Hans-Peter Duerr (Germany)
Samuel Epstein (USA)
Anwar Fazal (Malaysia)
Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín (Colombia)
Johan Galtung (Norway)
Wes Jackson/The Land Institute (USA)
Katarina Kruhonja (Croatia)
Ida Kuklina/The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (Russia)
Manfred Max-Neef (Chile)
Pat Mooney (Canada)
Alice Tepper Marlin (USA)
Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Nigeria)
Nicanor Perlas (Philippines)
Raúl Montenegro (Argentina)
Juan Pablo Orrego/ Grupo de Acción por el Biobío (Chile)
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (India)
Right Livelihood Award Foundation (Sweden)
Mycle Schneider (France)
Suciwati, wife of late Munir (Indonesia)
Hannumappa Sudarshan, VGKK (India)
Vesna Terselic (Croatia)
Trident Ploughshares (UK)
John F. Charlewood Turner (UK)
Judit Vásárhelyi, on behalf of Duna Kör (Hungary)
Alla Yaroshinskaya (Russia)