Because of my past work with Botswana and Debswana Diamond, a friend on Facebook forwarded to me an item that was posted to the Allafrica.com site. The release was put out by Survival International (SI) and concerned a recent court ruling denying the Bushmen access to a borehole that was created during mining exploration. Allafrica.com runs releases without edits or even context, which can be confusing or even misleading. In my Facebook response (included below), I tried to provide some context, but fear that I left more unsaid than I should have. I will try to say it here.
On Facebook, I incorrectly referred to all the Bushmen as San, according to Wikipedia, that’s not quite right. Also, I was unaware that the Bushmen had won a court case in 2006, which allowed them to return to hunting in the Kalahari. When I was in Botswana in 2002 this seemed to be the most pressing hardship that had been imposed on them. Also, the SI site does explain why the borehole water is deemed necessary the group, though the Bushman have always lived in the Kalahari without such resources. The recent court ruling prevents Bushmen from accessing water from this particular borehole, and may provide precedence for further restrictions for accessing water, which could prove more serious.
When I worked on the Debswana Diamond account in Japan, primarily promoting diamonds and tourism in Botswana, I came across this particular issue. I asked many officials about it and eventually received the answer that I posted to Facebook. I don’t remember who it was, or even whether he was affiliated with Debswana Diamond or the Botswana government, or neither.
It seemed that there were only a few people who knew the details, but there were a lot people with strong emotional opinions about it. My take was that the government resented what it viewed as outside interference from SI and other groups. At the same SI probably felt that it had to take a strident position in the case, as there had been claims of other problems. But SI’s approach still concerns me because it can exacerbate ethnic tensions – something no country needs, particularly in Africa. So while I agree with SI’s objectives, I haven’t been persuaded about its approach. Simply looking at SI’s list of indigenous people that it supports proves that this type of problem isn’t singular to Botswana, nor Africa.
My response on Facebook: “All for the San, as they are properly called, but Allafrica.com runs a lot of stuff that needs to be edited for content and fairness. This story is a news release from Survival International, a strident group based in London that has taken the side of a group of San suing the Botswana government in this court case. Survival International makes it sound as if the Botswana government is leaving the San to die in the desert. San have lived well for centuries in the Kalahari without water from boreholes. As I understand it, in 2002 the borehole in question was made when Debswana Diamond drilled looking for minerals. Water from the hole attracted a group of San to take up residence nearby. Debswana continued to truck water in for the group after the borehole no longer provided water. Finally, Debswana and the government offered to the move the San to a larger community that had been established for other San who were giving up their traditional life. So basically you had a borehole that inadvertently changed the way a group of San live. Then you had a problem of what to do after that…. A more serious problem at that time was the ban on hunting in certain areas, which the San have always done and which really put pressure on them to give up life in the desert and reside in communities.”