Botswana Bushmen win back rights to Kalahari water
- 27 January 2011 Last updated at 16:24 GMT
Botswana Bushmen win back rights to Kalahari waterRights groups say the government has tried to make the Basarwa Bushmen's lifestyle impossible
An appeals court in Botswana has ruled that indigenous Bushmen can drill wells for water in the Kalahari desert.
The court said the Basarwa Bushmen could use an existing well on their traditional land in the Kalahari Game Reserve, and excavate new wells.
The decision overturned a ruling made last July that took away the Basarwa's rights to drill for water.
The new ruling also criticised the government's treatment of the Basarwa as "degrading".
BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson says the court judgement is a remarkable victory for the Bushmen.
The Botswana Basarwa Bushmen have been embroiled in a long-running legal battle to return to their traditional land and way of life.
Diamonds have been discovered in the Kalahari Game Reserve, although the government insists that was not the reason it ordered the bushmen to be resettled outside the reserve.
AnalysisJohn Simpson World Affairs Editor, BBC News
The appeal court judgement is a remarkable victory for the Bushmen.
Not only has the court upheld their right to water in the Kalahari Desert, but it has criticised the government's treatment of the Bushmen as "degrading".
Supporters of the Bushmen inside and outside Botswana are greeting the court of appeal's judgement as a victory for the rule of law.
The Kalahari has been the bushmen's home for tens of thousands of years.
In 2006 the Basarwa won the right to return and to hunt without permits, but many of them still live outside the reserve.
Water tankers, which used to serve the community, no longer enter the reserve.
The UK-based rights group Survival International, which has supported the Basarwa Bushmen, hailed the latest court decision.
Director Stephen Corry said it was "a victory for human rights and the rule of law throughout Botswana".
He urged President Seretse Khama Ian Khama to signal whether or not the government's position had shifted in the light of the ruling.3 November 2010 Last updated at 15:03 GMT
Botswana anger at diamond boycott over Bushmen rightsSurvival International says the Basarwa refer to the resettlement camps as "places of death"
Botswana's government has dismissed as "propaganda" a call to boycott its diamonds by Survival International over its treatment of the Basarwa Bushmen.
The campaign group said the authorities had illegally forced the Basarwa from their ancestral lands in the Kalahari to make way for diamond mining.
"Survival is on a fund-raising campaign at the expense of a whole people," the environment minister told the BBC.
Kitso Mokaila said diamonds were not the issue, but the Basarwa's welfare.'Third-class citizens'
Survival International says services that are available in the new settlement camps had been available in the Kalahari Game Reserve before 2002 when the Basarwa were evicted.
"What we want to happen is for the government of Botswana to stop treating them like third-class citizens and to stop having what is effectively a kind of neo-colonialist attitude towards them," Survival International's director Stephen Corry told the BBC.
I don't believe you would want to see your own kind living in the dark ages in the middle of nowhere as a choice ”End Quote Kitso Mokaila Environment minister
The campaign group added that the government was ignoring a court case four years ago which ruled the Bushmen had been illegally forced from the Kalahari Game Reserve.
But Mr Mokaila said the judgement had not resolved the dispute and the judge had pushed both parties back to the negotiating table.
These talks, mediated by the Botswana Centre for Human Rights and other non-government organisations, were still going on, he said.
"That's a process that's painfully slow but I can assure you there is great progress being made and we're hopeful that we'll arrive at some conclusion," the minister of the environment, wildlife and tourism told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
He said the government had a responsibility to ensure children of the Basarwa communities had the opportunity to go to school and access to health.Botswana's government says the country's mineral wealth has benefited all its citizens
"I don't believe you would want to see your own kind living in the dark ages in the middle of nowhere as a choice, when you know that the world has moved forward and has become so technological.
"We do not want to leave any of our people behind yet in the same breath we do not want any of our people to lose their culture."
He said that Botswana prides itself on the fact that its mineral wealth had benefited everyone.
"Every mineral wealth that we have has taken all of us to school has brought in development to every level, to every community.
"Therefore I'd encourage tourists to come and see for themselves and compare with the propaganda that Survival is spewing out there."Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 19:02 GMTIn pictures: Botswana's bushmen
Botswana's San people, known as bushmen, have won the legal fight against their eviction from a game reserve in the Kalahari, their ancestral homeland for more than 20,000 years.
It was a tense wait in the courtroom, before a panel of three judges ruled by two-to-one in the bushmen's favour.
Their leader and the principal applicant in the case, Roy Sesana, was also in court to hear the ruling.
In 2002, the bushmen were moved to functional, but bleak settlements outside the reserve, where a new way of life was imposed.
The government says they are better off there, with access to clinics, schools, food and water, and no longer interfere with conservation work.
But the bushmen say they have to rely on government handouts, have little freedom and nothing to do.
They were fighting to preserve their way of life.Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 18:11 GMTBitter dispute over bushmen landsBy Barnaby PhillipsBBC News, BotswanaBushmen children are in danger of forgetting their ancestors' culture
Molatwe Mokalake, an old man probably in his 70s, is still seething with anger three weeks after he was forced out of his home village, Molapo.
He is now staying in the village of New Xade, a village close to the boundary of the vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in Botswana's harsh and dry bush country.
Dust blows across the streets, as he sits in a small kraal, surrounded by his family.
"It felt like a war against us", he says.
"The police came with guns. They did not allow the women to collect firewood, and we were not allowed to bring water from outside the reserve. This went on for two weeks. We felt frightened, and we did not come here of our own free will."We don't force around our people, and we believe in consultationGovernment spokesman Clifford Maribe
The grasslands which surround New Xade are heavily over-grazed. Donkeys, goats and dogs spend the day huddled under the few thorn trees, trying to shelter from the fierce Kalahari sun.
The houses are mostly small and drab, but New Xade does boast a new clinic, creche and primary school.
This unremarkable place is at the centre of a bitter ideological dispute, between bushman activists and the Botswana government.
The government is encouraging the bushmen to move out of the game reserve and settle in New Xade.Molatwe Mokalake says he was forced to leave his home
It says it can provide them with better social amenities here, while ensuring that the reserve remains a pristine wilderness.
The government accuses outsiders, and in particular the British lobby group, Survival International, of romanticising the bushmen, and of inciting them to oppose a democratically elected government.
Spokesman Clifford Maribe insists the authorities will not use force against the bushmen.
"Those are false reports intended to raise emotions and make the government look bad," he says.The police came and told us they had permission to shoot usGakeitumele
"The government of Botswana has a responsibility to all citizens - we don't force around our people, and we believe in consultation."
The authorities also deny persistent reports that the government is interested in prospecting for diamonds in the Game Reserve.
But it is clear that some of the bushmen in New Xade have been intimidated and are not happy to have left the reserve.
"The police came and told us they had permission to shoot us," says Gakeitumele, Mr Mokalake's granddaughter.
"They took my animals, and they lifted me into the truck to bring me here. But I will go back to Molapo whatever happens".
About a dozen bushmen were listening to our conversation. I asked them whether they preferred living in New Xade, or in the villages where they were born, inside the reserve.
Without hesitation, they all replied that they had been happier in the reserve.
Some said that in the reserve they were closer to their ancestors. Others complained that the move to New Xade has brought them nothing except HIV/Aids and alcoholism.
It is difficult to judge how representative these opinions are, because I was being shown around New Xade by activists from an organisation called First People of the Kalahari who are challenging government policy.
The fate of Molatwe, Gakeitumele and all the other bushmen who would like to return to their ancestral lands will ultimately be decided in court; the well-publicised case between the Botswana government and First People of the Kalahari is due to resume early next year.
The government argues that the bushmen have already abandoned many aspects of their traditional way of life: the bushmen today have livestock, and they use horses, spears, dogs and even guns to hunt wild animals.
And the fight over the land is only one aspect of a wider struggle for the bushmen's survival.
Preserving a culture
Two hours drive to the north of New Xade is the village of D'Kar, where bushmen elders, and missionaries from Europe and South Africa, are doing their best to keep bushman or San culture alive.
Bushmen perform a traditional healing dance, shuffling round and round in circles, chanting and clapping their hands in rhythm.Teachers like Tcega Fritz are helping to save Bushmen languages from extinction
Children join in, first watching how the elders move, and then imitating them with difficulty.
While some of the children are enjoying the dance, others appear embarrassed, and choose not to join in.
In a nearby classroom, Tcega Fritz is teaching his particular bushmen dialect, Naro, to a group of children.
To the outsider, Naro consists of a bewildering array of 28 almost indistinguishable clicks.
But Tcega is an engaging teacher and the children are enthusiastic.
Whereas some bushmen languages are only spoken by about 1,000 people, Naro is comparatively healthy; there are some 10,000 Naro speakers in northern Botswana.
"Our world is changing so fast, and sometimes it seems our culture is dying, so we need to use our language to keep our culture alive" says Tcega.
He is fighting to preserve that which can be preserved. But the old way of life, hunting and gathering across the wonderful empty expanses of the Kalahari, has gone forever.