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Botswana appeal court gives Bushmen access to water in Kalahari desert

28 January 2011

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) welcomes a decision by an appeal court in Botswana allowing Basarwa indigenous people to drill wells to access water inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

The appeal court overruled an August 2010 high court judgment that prevented access to a water borehole on their lands.

‘This is a major victory for the Basarwa people. Access to water is a basic right which they were denied in their own homeland,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

In 1961, the CKGR – which is the size of Denmark – was set up, mainly as a bid to ensure the Basarwa’s survival. Botswana’s national wealth has been founded on its diamond reserves. In the 1980s exploratory drills were sunk in the Game Reserve, and diamonds were found. Although the government claimed there was no connection between diamonds and subsequent events, in 1997, 2002 and 2005, there were a series of forced evictions of the Basarwa.

Many Basarwa were moved into squalid resettlement camps where there was no opportunity to pursue their traditional way of life. They faced high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and risked HIV infection.

‘We hope this decision will pave the way for the human rights of Basarwa people to be recognised and protected, leading to better standards of living and greater freedoms for the community,’ Söderbergh adds.