Thursday, June 13, 2024

Give the Bushmen water to drink!

There is a group of people in Botswana known as Basarwa. They are known by many names. Some call them Bushmen, some San, some Sho, some Basarwa, some call them Kung or Khwe. Regardless of what you call them, these people, with families just like you and me have been denied a basic right by the government of the Republic of Botswana, a simple right to water. They have many wishes, but this very simple wish of having access to water is the most troubling. They just want to have a borehole drilled in the CKGR, a place where their ancestors have lived for centuries, so that they, their children and families will have water to drink. They have even made an offer to the government; if the government doesn’t have the resources to drill a borehole for them, their offer is that they will drill the borehole for themselves. All they ask of the government is a permission to sink a borehole. The government of the Republic of Botswana has repeatedly refused them this basic right ÔÇô the basic right to water. The government of Botswana has previously provided water to wild animals and it is common practice that Batswana in their farms provide water to their cattle, goats and sheep from boreholes. Why is it difficult to provide water to the Basarwa in the CKGR? Are the Basarwa considered so sub-human by the government that a basic right to water that is usually extended to animals is now denied them? What have we come to as a country? We used to give water to our enemies and strangers, we even gave fuel to our archenemy, Mr Mugabe, during the floods that ravaged Zimbabwe and Mozambique and yet we fail to give simple drinking water to the Bushmen living in the CKGR?

The argument is that Basarwa are being used by foreigners who have better living conditions to the poor Bushmen whose destiny is squalor and ignorance. Also the attack has been that Europeans treat Basarwa like animals, some kind of tourist attraction. That may indeed be so. At one time, some ten years ago I used to believe that line of argument by the government. I remember 10 years ago at Lincoln College, off Turl Street at the University of Oxford, I engaged two British and a German, good friends of mine. The argument was simple and yet compelling. It ran something like this: “You see the government of Botswana has a responsibility to its citizens. Its responsibility is to see every Motswana benefit from the resources of the country equally. If you keep Basarwa in the CKGR, you mean that their children and their children’s children will never have a chance to become lawyers, doctors and nurses. They will forever be condemned to a life of roaming in parks after the ever shrinking natural resources of the country. At some point they will have to join the rest of the society. It’s either we do it now or we wait for that inevitable stage to take place sometimes in the future. Additionally, there can’t be one law for the Bushmen and another one for everyone else. If they stay in the parks they would want to hunt without a license which is unacceptable.”

That was 10 years ago, and for many years I believed that logic. That was until I the argument that there was no mining in the CKGR fell away. It became clear to me that we have been made to support a false argument. We thought that the government wanted to improve the lives of the Basarwa, while the grand plan has been to remove them for the sake of mining. Now, we have learnt that the government has granted Gem Diamonds Limited a 25 year license to mine diamonds in the CKGR. Moutlobu o dule, noga e iponatsa sentle.

Now the call is getting louder. Initially it was led by Survival International and Mr Roy Sesana. Now many are beginning to realise that what is happening in the CKGR borders on brutality against a minority people of the Kgalagadi desert. The call is a simple one. Give the Bushmen of the Kgalagadi water to drink! Why is this such a difficult thing to do? Now people in the arts (actors and and Hollywood stars) are arguing for the boycott of Botswana tourism as well as Botswana diamonds. There is no need to try and outdebate Survival International. Festus Mogae, a man much brighter than the current lot tried it and it was such a waste of energies and time! I heard him successfully take on a rowdy lot in a Sussex auditorium in 2004. It was ill-advised. Sometimes facts matter less; appearances speak volumes. What the government should have done is come out clean on the CKGR matter. They should have simply moved the Basarwa for mining purposes without trying to be paternalistic and thinking that they can think for the Basarwa ÔÇô in effect thinking that the Basarwa have no clue about what’s best for them. They should have proposed the move just like they would for any tribe in Botswana. What will it take for the Botswana government to treat the Basarwa fairly and justly? Approaching the courts only works in the interest of the Bushmen.

Who ever heard of anyone in the 21st century approaching the courts to ask for a right to borehole water? No, the government should feel compelled to provide water for the Basarwa and not to go through a lengthy and costly legal process. It is terrible PR for Botswana. Will it take a full boycott of Botswana’s goods; beef, diamonds and tourism for the government to listen to the cries of the thirsty Basarwa? I repeat the call and I add my voice to the swelling clarion: Give the Basarwa water to drink! Whether they are being used by tourists and white foreigners or not, they have a right to a decent drink of water. I know some are saying our call for the government to provide Basarwa with drinking water is unpatriotic. We reject such a charge and instead argue that it is unpatriotic to deny some citizens of Botswana simple drinking water. Is it because Basarwa are despised in this country? I appeal to the government to give the Bushmen water, as a matter of urgency. The boycott, if successful will hurt this country dearly, unless the government gives the Bushmen water to drink.

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