The Kalahari Bushmen are celebrating a major victory in their struggle to return home with their Indigenous rights intact. For the first time in nine years, the Bushmen have access to drinking water!
This welcomed news stems from a new partnership between Gem Diamonds Botswana and the non-profit organization Vox United. The aim of the partnership, which came about last June, after consultations with the Bushmen, is to provide the indigenous residents with access to water at four villages located on their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The names of those four villages are Mothemelo, Gope, Metsimanong and Molapo.
The partnership itself arrived just three months after another major victory, in January, when Botswana’s Court of Appeal overturned an unfortunate High Court ruling in 2010 that overtly denied the Bushmen’s legal right to water on their lands.
As Survival International reported at the time, the Court of Appeal found that:
- the Bushmen have the right to use their old borehole [the Mothomelo well]
- the Bushmen have the right to sink new boreholes
- the government’s conduct towards the Bushmen amounted to ‘degrading treatment’.
- the government must pay the Bushmen’s costs in bringing the appeal.
A few days after the key ruling was handed down by the Court of Appeal, Botswana decided to approve a massive $3 billion diamond mine near the village of Gope. The approval was reportedly issued on the condition that the diamond deposit’s owner, Gem Diamonds, refused to provide the Bushmen with any access to water.
Whether or not the government issued that condition, Survival International confirms that the Bushmen now have at least one fully-operational, solar-powered well.
As it turns out, Vox United re-drilled the same well that the Appeals Court singled out–the very same well that the government sealed during their forced relocation of the Bushmen in 2002.
Ever since the relocation took place, the Bushmen have been struggling in court for their right to return home.
Four years after the relocation, a more reasonable High Court ruled that the Bushmen have the legal right to live on their ancestral lands and that the government acted illegally by taking them against their will. Botswana promised that it wouldn’t appeal the ruling, however, since the 2006 ruling, they have continuously obstructed the Bushmen’s full return; in part, by making them pay their own way back, by arresting hunters and by banning the Bushmen from using the old well.
“The Bushmen have been waiting for water for a very long time,” said Rebecca Spooner, a campaigner for Survival International, “And although Mothomelo is the site of the original borehole, it’s fantastic news they’ve managed to reinstate it here.”
Vox United has already drilled other wells; however, they will require desalination equipment before the Bushmen can use them day to day. “[It's] going to be very expensive,” said Spooner.
Fortunately, with Gem Diamonds making good on its end of the deal with Vox Uninted, there’s no reason to think that they won’t come through here as well.