Why is the Government of Botswana Persecuting the Bushmen?

‘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.

Care2 TAKE ACTION: Don’t swim while bushmen go thirsty!

* * *
Learn more about Wilderness Safaris and join the boycott.

photo credit: Survival International
by Survival International


Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M8 years ago

Thanks for bringing to my attention Nicole and International Survival. Access to water is a fundamental human right!

Man's inhumanity to man....

Leia P.
Leia P.8 years ago

this is outrageous

Rooibos Bird
IE Ries8 years ago

The !Kung San *are* the oldest known human groups, and even their physiology is slightly different. Getting to know them is getting to know how the earliest populations of humans lived.

Remember, too, that the !Kung San never left Africa, they remained in the "birth lands" of all humans. Other tribes - black and otherwise - moved into Africa where they were already living, and had lived since the beginning of human history. Becareful about calling people on other continents "immigrants" and bad names and accusing any one people of victimizing everyone else and understand that this victimization goes on all over the world, there are many victims, and many perpetrators. There is no one "bad race" out there, folks.

It's extraordinarily sad that the clan of people from whom we all originated, the !Kung San (that's THEIR name for themselves, The People), are being treated this way by people who only recently (relative to human history) became their neighbors in that land...let this be a lesson to everyone.

I would like to see this resolved equitably and for the !Kung San to have what they need to continue living their special lives. If we lose them, we lose part of our own history as a species.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

Noted, He knows where he belongs :-)

Connie W.
Connie W8 years ago

Hi Deborah H, I wrote a comment on their facebook page as well. If you click on "We are Wilderness Others" or "Just Others", you will find your comment.

France M.
marie france8 years ago

... if it is of any consolation - to know that boomerang dynamics will take care of everybit of and any injustices done to anyone of them ( us )I had a dream years ago where, after some sort of deep initiation, I was asked : '' Do you accept Redemption ? ''' I said YES with my whole Being and asked back what I would have to do then this all encompassing voice replied : '' Every thought, every word, every action that is less than Divine must be rectified ! '' So be it *

Pamylle G.
Pamylle G8 years ago

So much for how "advanced" our civilization is - what good is our cleverness when we are ethically bereft ?

Christine S.

Why can't countries learn not to repeat the mistakes of other countries- like the U.S. and our atrocious treatment of the native americans? Botswana needs to support and protect the Bushmen and their small population, not drive them into extinction.

Marla I.
Marla I.8 years ago

These Bushmen have thrived for centuries in the Kalahari; now that this hot place has become the latest cool resort, indigenous people have to suffer. NO! Let the Bushmen have access to their water and demolish the luxury retreats.

Sally Roach
Sally Roach8 years ago

We never had any humanity apparently