Botswana San Lose Court Case on Water Access

On July 21, the Botswana High Court ruled against the San Bushmen, barring them from re-opening a vital waterhole in the Kalahari desert, which is key to their way of life and survival.

The Botswana government has been trying to push the San out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve since diamonds were found there in the 1980s. The government sealed the Bushmen’s water borehole when it evicted them from the reserve in 2002. In 2006, the Bushmen won a landmark High Court case that ruled that the San had been evicted illegally and that they have the right to live on their ancestral lands inside the reserve. Yet, because of difficulties in accessing water, many of the San still live outside the reserve. The nearest available water source is over 25 miles away, and water trucks no longer are allowed to enter the reserve. Thus the San must make arduous journeys to fetch water from outside the reserve. To make matters worse, the government recently banned some Bushmen from entering the reserve by donkey, which they use to transport water.

In the recent case, the San Bushmen community of Mothomelo had filed an application to sink and reopen a former borehole. The judge ruled that the Bushmen were not entitled either to reopen an old borehole or to drill a new one. In the mean time, new boreholes have been drilled for wildlife only, and the government has allowed the opening of a luxury safari lodge for tourists on Bushman land.

Former UN water advisor, Maude Barlow condemned the ruling a week after the UN declared water a fundamental human right. Botswana was one of the 42 countries that abstained from voting on the UN resolution on July 28. The resolution affirmed that states bear the responsibility for the “promotion and protection of all human rights,” including making sure water is sufficiently "available, accessible, and acceptable"to everyone.

In response, ignoring the fact that Botswana government policies have evicted the San from their ancestral lands and barred them from access to water on those lands that tourists and wildlife enjoy, the government contends that the San have chosen to settle in a harsh and remote location and have brought hardship on themselves.