Bushmen take on Botswana government

Botswana's Kalahari Bushmen have lodged an appeal against a High Court ruling in July that denied them access to the Mothomelo borehole.

Botswana’s Kalahari Bushmen have lodged an appeal against a High Court ruling in July that denied them access to the Mothomelo borehole in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, fuelling yet another round of legal battles with the Botswana government.

The July court judgement made by Justice Waila found that “there is no reason why they [Bushmen] cannot opt to reside in an area closer to where water and other essential services are available — I have sympathy for them that having chosen to settle at an uncomfortably distant location, they have brought upon themselves any discomfort they may endure.”

Built in the 1980s by diamond company De Beers, Mothomelo is the only borehole in the wildlife-rich reserve. It has been sealed off since 2002 when the government began evicting about 4 000 Bushmen from the game reserve. Water and other essential services are accessible only outside the reserve in resettlement camps set up by the government.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Gordon Bennett, the Bushmen’s legal representative, said: “Nobody has any use for the borehole except the Bushmen, who are willing at their own expense to recommission it. But the government is denying them access to water, as it wants them to leave the reserve.”

Bennett said the plaintiffs had appealed the High Court ruling in terms of the Water Act, which states that any occupier of land can sink boreholes and extract water for domestic use. “The Bushmen are the legal owners of land in the reserve. The court recognises that,” he said.

According to Smith Moeti, who lives in the reserve, conditions remain extremely tough, “with no water or health facilities and the government still refusing to give us hunting licences”.

Miriam Ross, Survival International spokesperson, said the earliest the Bushmen’s appeal could be heard is in January next year, as this is the next time the Court of Appeal sits, but, their lawyers would find out only in November at the earliest whether the Bushmen would have to wait longer.

Meanwhile, Wilderness Safaris, the owners of Kalahari Plains Camp, a luxury tourist lodge located in the reserve, has rejected calls to supply water to the Bushmen. The company argues that it is not a water utility and that its business model is not suited to providing such a service.

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