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Respect is one of the most significant features of peaceful peoples, an essential element in the maintenance of their harmony. A lack of respect bedevils the G/wi as they struggle with the government of Botswana to overcome the discrimination they face. Requests that they be treated just as respectfully as all the other citizens of their country have frequently been denied.

Last Thursday, January 27, the Botswana Court of Appeals decided unanimously against the government and in favor of the G/wi and the other San, who have been denied the right to have water for their homes. The court ruled that they must be allowed to reopen their old borehole and open new ones if necessary. The five justices on the highest court in the nation decided that the government was acting illegally in banning them from having access to water.

The San people also now have the right to sink new boreholes at their own expense. The court castigated the government for its “degrading treatment” of the minority people. It ruled that the government must pay the court costs of the San in launching their appeal to a ruling issued last year by a single judge on the High Court who had decided that the government did have the right to deny them water.

After the decision, a spokesperson for the San peoples told the press, “We are very happy that our rights have finally been recognized. We have been waiting a long time for this. Like any human beings, we need water to live. We also need our land. We pray that the government will now treat us with the respect we deserve.”

The court gave detailed descriptions of what the government must do and must not do about the water issue and the San. It ordered that the San must be allowed to repair or service their boreholes and to keep them in good working order. They must not be hindered in using the water they obtain from the boreholes for their domestic purposes.

The order stipulated that the people must be allowed to bring any water tanks into their communities that they may need. The language of the decision sounds as if the court was anticipating every possible approach the government might subsequently try to use to thwart the ruling. It is worth quoting in part.

“By themselves or their agents the applicants … may bring in the reserve any rig, machinery, plant or any other equipment they may reasonably require to sink boreholes or re-commission the borehole at [Mothomelo].” It continued, “the applicants should be allowed to obtain such advice or assistance from persons resident outside the reserve as they may reasonably require to carry out the order of the Court and transport materials in the reserve.”

The justices specified that the government was not allowed to hinder outsiders from assisting the San in reopening the old borehole, or sinking new ones, by denying them entry permits into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The government announced on Friday that it would comply with the court ruling. Jeff Ramsey, a government spokesperson, said that “while we do not agree with certain aspects of the basis on which the decision was reached, we recognize that this is a decision of Botswana’s highest court from which there is no appeal.” He stated that the government would implement the decision of the court because of its respect for court decisions and the rule of law. He did not indicate if that respect extended to the concept of human rights for the G/wi.