Jumanda Gakelebone, a spokesperson for the San people, indicated that they are in a joyous mood, celebrating the opening of a new borehole for the community of Mothomelo. “Our dignity and right as a people has been restored,” he said. But, he added in a more somber spirit, it is also appropriate to remember those people who have died from dehydration in recent years before this water became available.
At 2:57 PM on Friday, July 29th, an NGO called Vox United announced on its website that drilling boreholes for the G/wi and G//ana communities had been successful. They hit good water at about 72 meters (236 feet). The website says that, “the water is clean, sweet and flows at 800 to 1000 liters per hour as tested by the drilling team.” The news release on the website indicates that drilling for water will be done next for Molapo and Gope, other San communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
After more than four years of conflict with the government of Botswana, the San peoples living in the CKGR once again have their own drinking water, at least at the one fortunate community.
This has been a positive year for the San. On January 27th, the Botswana Court of Appeals, the highest court in the nation, ruled in their favor. The court said that the government had to stop hassling the San and allow them to regain access to drinking water. The nation’s High Court had decided in late 2006 that they had to be allowed to return to their homes in the CKGR, from which the government had removed them.
The Botswana government allowed them to return, but it decided to prevent them from reopening their old boreholes or drilling new ones. They could live out on the land if they wished, but they would have to do so without water. Over four years later, they finally won their case.
In June this year, Gem Diamonds, the mining firm that is opening a diamond mine near San communities in the CKGR, announced that it would be providing the funding and the technical expertise to reopen and drill new boreholes in order to provide the water the people need. It said that Vox United would be coordinating the consultations with the San communities and the drilling operations.
The announcement on the Vox United website went unnoticed for over a month until Survival International (SI) confirmed the news at the beginning of last week. It added the detail that a solar-powered pump had been installed, but, of more interest, is the record of the reactions in the nearby San community. “Bushmen are already returning to the area and have been bathing in the water.”
The announcement on the SI website includes a wonderful photo of a San girl holding a plastic water bottle—what else?—right in a tank of brownish water, a fantastic grin on her face. Two other girls hover happily in the background.
With the announcement from SI, the world suddenly paid attention. The New York Times called it “a significant victory against the government.” The New Age, a major newspaper from South Africa, quoted Jumanda Gakelebone as saying, “you have no idea how happy we are.” Gakelebone added, according to the online news report, “it’s still unbelievable that we now have a borehole in the CKGR where we can draw water and drink without worrying where the next drop would come from as was the case before.”