Puma urged to disinvest over controversial tourist lodge on Bushman land

"Bushman child, Central Kalahari Game Reserve."
"Bushman child, Central Kalahari Game Reserve."
© Survival International

Survival is appealing to sports giant Puma to disinvest from tourism company Wilderness Safaris over a lodge it has built on land belonging to the Bushmen of Botswana.

Puma bought a 20% stake in the company via a private placement shortly before its listing on the Botswana and Johannesburg stock exchanges on 8th April.

Wilderness Safaris is, in its own words, “a conservation organisation and ecotourism company dedicated to responsible tourism…helping to ensure the future protection of Africa’s spectacular wildlife heritage and sharing the benefits of tourism with local communities”.

Despite these pledges, the company failed to consult the Gana Bushmen on whose traditional territory the lodge sits. Wilderness Safaris opened the Kalahari Plains Camp in 2009 after signing an agreement with the Botswana government; the same government which has banned the Bushmen from accessing water on their lands.

Puma prides itself on its commitment to corporate social responsibility, and “contribut[ing] to a better world for generations to come”.

Despite a 2006 High Court ruling that the Bushmen have the constitutional right to live on their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the government has banned them from accessing a borehole which they rely on for water; without it, they are forced to make up to 300 mile round trip journeys to fetch water. The Bushmen have now launched legal action against the government and a court hearing is set for 9th June.

Recent reports by the UN and the US State Department have condemned the government for its treatment of the Bushmen.

While Bushmen struggle without access to water, which Wilderness Safaris itself describes as ‘the most precious commodity in the desert’, tourists visiting the Kalahari Plains Camp are treated to a bar and swimming pool, as well as a ‘Bushman walk’.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘There’s something really obscene about supporting luxury tourism in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve while the Bushmen whose land this camp is occupying are being treated so inhumanely. Until the Bushmen are at least allowed to access their own water, tourists simply shouldn’t go to the reserve, and investors should shun safari companies operating there.’

Bushman spokesperson, Jumanda Gakelebone, said, ‘We, the Bushmen, ask companies not to buy shares in the lodge until we have our rights and our freedom. There is nothing more painful than to see a swimming pool near us in the desert where people can swim while we ourselves don’t have any water.’