‘I was born in this place, with the eland’, said Mogetse Kaboikanyo, of the vast expanse of open plains and scrub known as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana. ‘I have been here for a very long time. This is my birthright, here, where my father’s body lies in the sand.’’
The Bushman peoples of Southern Africa have lived on their lands for 70,000 years, or more; genetic evidence has shown that they are one of the oldest peoples in the world.
In the 1960s the CKGR was legally established to ensure that their homelands were protected. But Mogetse’s birthright, despite being enshrined in Botswana’s constitution, was flouted.
Together with hundreds of other Bushmen, Mogetse was forcibly evicted from his home after reserves of diamonds were discovered there in the 1980s. The government took him to a squalid camp outside the reserve where hunting is non-existent; where AIDS, alcoholism and depression are rife. There he died a few months later, far from his father’s grave, in a place the Bushmen call a ‘place of death’.
The government and diamond industry in Botswana are ‘Siamese twins’; the diamond deposits on the Bushmen’s land are believed by many to be behind the government’s ongoing antagonism towards southern Africa’s oldest inhabitants. Today, Survival launches an international boycott of Botswana diamonds, with protests outside De Beers stores in London and San Francisco.
In 2006 the Bushmen won the right to return home, in a landmark court case for tribal peoples everywhere. The government, however, is still trying to ensure that their homecoming is made impossible, by denying them access to water.
The CKGR has no permanent surface water and summer rains are, at best, unpredictable. So in the dry season, when the fossil rivers and water pans turn to dust, access to a well is crucial.
The waterhole, however, has long gone; sealed by government officials years ago when they arrived to dismantle Bushman homes. The pump and storage tanks were removed, the water poured away.
To deny water in such an environment is to leave the Bushmen struggling to stay alive. ‘Indigenous people who have remained or returned to the reserve face harsh and dangerous conditions’, said James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights. At least one Bushman woman has since died from dehydration.
Tourists to the CKGR have no such concerns for their survival, however. The company Wilderness Safaris recently signed a lease with the government to open a luxury safari camp on Bushman lands. While the Bushmen are making long trips to collect water from outside the reserve, visitors are safe in the knowledge that water flows freely at the Kalahari Plains Camp. It is unlikely that the showers will dry up, or the swimming pool will be drained into the sand.
‘It’s hard to imagine a more cruel and inhuman way to treat people,’ said Maude Barlow, the former UN advisor on water in September this year, shortly after the UN formally recognized water as a fundamental human right. But for the Bushmen — who once lived from the Zambezi Basin to the Cape of Good Hope — this right, and their birthright, still evades them.
‘Why is the government of Botswana persecuting the Bushmen?’ asked Mogetse Kaboikanyo, not long before he died. It is a question echoed by supporters the world over.
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photo credit: Survival International
by Survival International
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