Skip to content

Fracking threatens right to water for Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana

Survival International tells us, “Large parts of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) – home to Africa’s last hunting Bushmen – have been opened up to international companies for the controversial practice of ‘fracking’, according to an investigation for the documentary film ‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas’ and British newspaper The Guardian. A leaked map shows that exploration concessions have been granted for half of the CKGR – a reserve larger than Switzerland – raising fears of land grabbing, a drop in water levels and irreparable damage to a fragile ecosystem essential for the survival of the Bushmen and the reserve’s wildlife.”


They add, “The Kalahari Bushmen have been suffering persecution at the hands of the Botswana government for decades. Despite winning two court cases which granted them the right to live, hunt and access water in the CKGR, they are forced to apply for restrictive permits to enter the reserve, and are routinely arrested for hunting.”

The Guardian article notes, “Some observers believe this is the most likely reason for President Ian Khama’s government fighting court battles to prevent the Kalahari Bushmen, also known as the San, from returning to their ancestral land.”

We’re following this new development, but here’s a look back at the issue of the Kalahari Bushmen and the right to water.


August 2010

In a Survival International media release, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow condemned the Botswana government’s failure to allow Bushmen to access water. She stated, “Last week, the UN General Assembly declared that everyone, everywhere, has the right to water. But now the world witnesses one of Africa’s most prosperous countries denying its first inhabitants the right to sink a well, while promoting mining and safari camps just a few miles away. It’s hard to imagine a more cruel and inhuman way to treat people. One can only conclude Botswana’s authorities view Bushmen as less important than wildlife. Many people around the world will be horrified at what they’re seeing.”

January 2011
The Botswana Gazette reported, “Botswana’s Court of Appeal will begin a hearing to decide whether Kalahari Bushmen living on their ancestral lands have the right to water. The Bushmen, who returned to their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve after a previous court victory, are appealing against a 2010 High Court ruling that denied their right to access a well in the reserve they had used for decades. The 2010 ruling, which came a week before the UN formally recognized water as a fundamental human right, has been slammed by Africa’s key human rights body for denying the Bushmen’s ‘right to life’. Without the well, the Bushmen are forced to make arduous journeys by foot or donkey to fetch water from outside the reserve.”

July 2011

Survival International reported, “In a momentous decision, Botswana’s Court of Appeal today quashed a ruling that denied the Kalahari Bushmen access to water on their ancestral lands. …Celebrating after the decision, a Bushman spokesman said, ‘We are very happy that our rights have finally been recognized. Like any human beings, we need water to live.'” Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said, “This is a major win, it’s the first test case of our right to water resolution at the United Nations.” In fact, the ruling quoted a report by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN’s recognition of water as a fundamental human right: “water is a limited natural resource and a public good fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights…”

More to come.