Government’s decision to award a South African company rights to build a tourist lodge inside the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve has reignited the controversy over the forced relocation of Basarwa from the reserve.
Survival International Director, Steven Corry, this week latched on to the issue to resurrect his waning campaign against the government of Botswana. In an interview with VOA English to Africa Service, reporter Joe De Capua, the SI director argued that “there is an exploratory diamond mine, which is being turned into a real diamond mine. That’s got obviously boreholes. And now the government has sold a tender …to a South African company which is going to build a tourist lodge near one of the Bushmen communities. They obviously are going to need boreholes for water for their tourists and, of course, water holes to attract the game. Meanwhile, the government is still saying the Bushmen cannot have access to the borehole in their own community. And they’re saying this is because of conservation reasons,” he says.
Corry says Basarwa who returned to the reserve rely on rain and melons for water. “A lot of them haven’t gone back into the reserve after being evicted by the government in 2002 precisely because of this water problem. And there’s been drought in Botswana for several years now,” he says.
The SI director says blocking the Basarwa from using boreholes violates international law. “Yes, indeed, and it also violates Botswana’s own laws,” he says. After the Bushmen were evicted from the game reserve in 2002, they took the government to court over the next four years. The court declared the evictions illegal. “It said that preventing them, for example, having hunting permits, preventing them having water was tantamount to condemning them to death by starvation. And the government is still refusing to issue any hunting permits. The Bushmen are asking for the situation as it was only four or five years ago. That’s to say they should be allowed to hunt and they should have access to the water in this borehole as they used to for decades,” he says.
The tender was offered, according to Survival International, to the Safari & Adventure Company of South Africa, which it says also operates tourism businesses in Namibia and Zambia. Corry says his organization will be in contact with the firm in the near future.
“We will point out that it is simply unacceptable for there to be tourists drinking their gins and tonics and water close to a community of Bushmen who are denied water and who are in fact denied the right even to hunt. Basically they’re denied the right to get food or water,” he says.
Basarwa have been considering further legal action against the Botswana government, which says it evicted them so they could receive medical and social services.