The G/wi and G//ana San peoples of the Kalahari Desert are going to appeal again to the High Court of their country for relief from persecution by Botswana’s national government. The San won their suit against the government in the High Court in 2006, which gave them the right to return to their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
The government had expelled them from the CKGR and forced them into resettlement camps in 2002, claiming it was for their own good, or that it was for the protection of the wildlife. The real reasons were that the government wanted to make sure royalties from proposed diamond mining in the CKGR would all go into government coffers, not to the indigenous minority people who already lived there. The court’s two to one decision four years ago agreed with the San position.
But the government of Botswana hassled them as soon as they started moving back, requiring them to obtain hunting licenses before they could hunt for meat, then refusing to issue the licenses; requiring them to obtain water from outside the reserve, then prohibiting them from using large holding tanks and refusing them the right to reopen a borehole that had provided them ample clean water before it was closed in 2002.
Meanwhile, a diamond company opened a mining operation, and another firm opened a wilderness lodge for tourists. The government allowed both companies to drill for water, while the nearby, indigenous minority settlements were denied the same right. The companies were even prohibited from sharing their water with the San.
The San groups have engaged the same British attorney, Gordon Bennett, who represented them in the earlier case. He was to fly to Botswana to represent them before the High Court starting yesterday, Wednesday, in Lobatse, Botswana. Justice Singh Walia will hear the case. Mr. Bennett blasted the government for acting unconstitutionally in denying the people the right to use the borehole, and he denied that there is any logical action for its refusal. “The eviction took place in 2002, when the borehole was capped and the pump removed. Since then the borehole sat idle and of no use to man or beast. It is [a] cause of huge importance to the Bushmen,” he said.
Survival International is backing the latest court suit. According to Fiona Watson, a spokesperson for the group, the government is arguing “that it’s government land there, and the Bushmen have no rights over it. It’s incredibly petty, and shows once again that the government has no interest in abiding by the 2006 ruling, which had already clearly stated that their actions evicting the Bushmen were illegal.”
The San people who have returned to the CKGR are forced to travel 450 km, round trip, to obtain water outside the reserve for their needs. They claim that one member of their community has died due to dehydration.
Jumanda Gakelebone, speaking for the San people, argued that the decision of the High Court, requiring the government to allow them to live in their ancestral homes in the reserve, surely included the right to have the drinking water they had access to before they were forcibly exiled. Mr. Gakelebone elaborated: “Especially the old people and the young are suffering from lack of water. It pains us that the animals and tourists on our land can drink our water to their heart’s content yet we go thirsty. We pray that the court will give us back our water.”
The 2010 suit is being led by Matsipane Mosetlhanyane and Gakenyatsiwe Matsipane. Mr. Matsipane said he is one of the original applicants to the court which led up to the 2006 decision. He is asking the High Court to rule on whether the CKGR residents must expose themselves, and the lives of their children, to the risks of not having safe, reliable water, especially when it would be available at no cost to the government.
Trevor Mmopelwa, Director of Wildlife and National Parks for Botswana, argued in response that the San people chose to live in a place without water—it is their choice. “I can therefore aver that whatever hardships the Applicants are likely to face in the exercise of their choice, such hardships are of the applicant’s own making,” he said. The official admitted that the San people had requested permission to deepen or use another borehole, but he claimed the Attorney General had said he did not have the authority to grant such permission.
He also stated that bringing holding tanks for water storage into the CKGR would have a deleterious effect on its wildlife purposes—it would change it into a place of human habitation, rather than a wildlife reserve. An article in the Botswana Gazette did not indicate if he had discussed why the tourist lodge and the mining company had been allowed to drill boreholes while the San had been denied a similar permission.
Although Survival International and Mr. Bennett are supporting the San cause, apparently the European governments are not. The European Commission has agreed to donate 60 million Euros to help Botswana develop its “human resources.” While the negotiations about the grant were taking place in Brussels, Survival International announced that the government of Botswana had just sent truckloads of soldiers and police into the CKGR, presumably to further persecute or intimidate the San people.