There are 100,000 Bushmen in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola. They are the indigenous people of southern Africa, and have lived there for tens of thousands of years.
In the middle of Botswana lies the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a reserve created to protect the traditional territory of the 5,000 Gana, Gwi and Tsila Bushmen (and their neighbours the Bakgalagadi), and the game they depend on.
In the early 1980s, diamonds were discovered in the reserve. Soon after, government ministers went into the reserve to tell the Bushmen living there that they would have to leave because of the diamond finds.
In three big clearances, in 1997, 2002 and 2005, virtually all the Bushmen were forced out. Their homes were dismantled, their school and health post were closed, their water supply was destroyed and the people were threatened and trucked away.
Those who have not returned to the reserve now live in resettlement camps outside the reserve. Rarely able to hunt, and arrested and beaten when they do, they are dependent on government handouts. Many are now gripped by alcoholism, boredom, depression, and illnesses such as TB and HIV/AIDS.
Bushman child, CKGR, Botswana 2004
© 2004 Stephen Corry/Survival
Unless they are able to live on their ancestral lands, their unique societies and way of life will be destroyed, and many of them will die.
Although the Bushmen won the right in court to go back to their lands in 2006, the government has done everything it can to make their return impossible, including banning them from accessing a water borehole which they used before they were evicted; without it, the Bushmen struggle to find enough water to survive on their lands.
The Bushmen launched further litigation against the government in a bid to gain access to their borehole. Although their application was initially dismissed, in January 2011 Botswana’s Court of Appeal ruled that the Bushmen can use their old borehole and sink new ones in the reserve as well. The judges described the Bushmen’s plight as ‘a harrowing story of human suffering and despair.’
Xoroxloo Duxee died of dehydration after the Bushmen's water borehole was disabled.
At the same time as preventing the Bushmen from accessing water, the government drilled new boreholes for wildlife only and allowed safari company, Wilderness Safaris, to open a tourist camp in the reserve.
The Kalahari Plains Camp was opened after Wilderness Safaris entered into a lease with the government. However, the lease made no provisions for the rights of the Bushmen on whose ancestral lands the camp sits, nor were they consulted about the venture.
While Bushmen nearby struggle to find enough water to survive on their lands, guests can sip cocktails by the camp’s swimming pool.
The pool of Wilderness Safaris' new lodge in the CKGR.
In addition, the government has:
Refused to issue a single permit to hunt on their land (despite Botswana’s High Court ruling that its refusal to issue permits was unlawful),
Arrested more than 50 Bushmen for hunting to feed their families,
Banned them from taking their small herds of goats back to the reserve.
Its policy is clearly to intimidate and frighten the Bushmen into staying in the resettlement camps, and making the lives of those who have gone back to their ancestral land impossible.
In 2002 the Bushmen took the government to court. They wanted the court to rule that their eviction was illegal. Due to procedural wrangling, evidence did not start to be heard until 2004.
Bushmen leader and spokesman, Roy Sesana in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana.
© Lottie Davies/Survival
Although the Bushmen are Botswana’s poorest citizens, the case became the longest and most expensive in the country’s history.
239 Bushman adults put their names to the case, and another 135 adults asked to be added to it. Together with their children, they represented around 1,000 people. (Of the original 239 Bushmen, 12% died awaiting justice.)
While the case continued, many Bushmen tried to return to their homeland in the reserve. Nearly all were evicted again by the government, some of them for the third time. During the case, the key clause protecting Bushman rights in Botswana’s constitution was removed by the government.
Through the generosity of its supporters, Survival helped the Bushmen bring their case.
On 13 December 2006 the Bushmen won an historic victory. The judges ruled that their eviction by the government was ‘unlawful and unconstitutional’, and that they have the right to live inside the reserve, on their ancestral land.
The court also ruled that the Bushmen have the right to hunt and gather in the reserve, and should not have to apply for permits to enter it. Read more on this landmark ruling.
Although the government quickly announced that it would not appeal the judgment, it has since done everything it can to obstruct it.
In 2010 the Bushmen took the government to court again in a bid to access water inside the reserve. The judge dismissed their case, but in January 2011 Botswana’s Court of Appeal overturned the decision and condemned the government’s ‘degrading treatment’ of the Bushmen.
The Bushmen, Survival and many other observers believe that the Bushmen were evicted because their land is rich in diamonds.
|Bushmen at Gope before being evicted. |
Their reserve lies in the middle of the richest diamond-producing area in the world. There is known to be at least one major diamond deposit in the reserve, at a Bushman community called Gope. Many other ‘kimberlites’ (volcanic rock in which diamonds are found) are present in the reserve.
In May 2007 De Beers sold its deposit at Gope to Gem Diamonds, for $34 million. Gem Diamonds’ chief executive called the Gope deposit ‘a problematic asset for De Beers’ because of the Bushmen campaign.
Gem Diamonds has stated publicly that it contains more than $2.2 billion-worth of diamonds (at 2007 prices), and it plans to develop a mine at Gope when economic conditions are favourable. In 2010 Gem increased its estimate of the value of the Gope deposit to $3.3 billion.
The Botswana government has approved the mine, and previously stated that Gem would not be allowed to provide the Bushmen with water. The government has, however, reserved the right to use water boreholes drilled by Gem for wildlife. Gem Diamonds claims that the Bushmen are in favour of the mine, but the Bushmen have had no independent advice on its probable impact.
Other companies are also involved. Petra Diamonds is exploring throughout the reserve and has identified the Gope and Kukama areas as priorities.
- The Bushmen of Gope
Background information about the former Bushman community of Gope, in the CKGR.
- Bushmen aren’t forever (PDF, 15 pages, last updated September 2006)
This factsheet, subtitled Botswana: diamonds in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the eviction of Bushmen, explains the issues surrounding the eviction of the Bushmen from the CKGR in detail.
In February 2011, Botswana’s most powerful court ruled that the Bushmen have the right to access water inside their home in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Cutting off their water supply was one of the tactics used by the Botswana government to stop the Bushmen returning to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
During the evictions the government capped the Bushmen’s only borehole and removed its pump, rendering it useless.
Those Bushmen who returned to the reserve, both before and after their court victory, were forced to survive on water they collected from ‘pans’ – rain-filled depressions in the sand, and from melons and roots. In the dry season, life was extremely difficult, and at least one woman died of starvation and thirst.
Bushmen children at Molapo in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, with melons which supply some of their water needs
© Lottie Davies/Survival
Meanwhile, the government allowed a diamond company in the reserve to use as much water as needed, drilled new boreholes for wildlife with funding from Tiffany & Co, and allowed Wilderness Safaris to open a tourist camp in the reserve, complete with swimming pool.
In 2010, the Bushmen launched further litigation against the government in a bid to gain access to their borehole. The case was heard in Botswana’s High Court in June 2010 but the judge later dismissed their application.
The most recent ruling by the Court of Appeal quashes this decision, describing the government’s ‘degrading treatment’ of the Bushmen.
Now the Bushmen’s borehole in the community of Mothomelo has been reinstated, and they have access to running water after nine years.
Bushman girls enjoy water from the well at Mothomelo
© Vox United/Survival
The Bushmen still fear that the government could once again close the borehole. However, they hope that a pledge by Gem Diamonds to construct boreholes for other communities in the reserve will be upheld this year.
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