Giant bush fire threatens Kalahari Bushmen

September 8, 2008

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Fears are growing for Bushmen in Botswana, as a giant bush fire that has been streaking across the Kalahari for over a week shows no sign of dying out.

The fire is quickly advancing across the dry grassland in the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and destroying melons which provide a vital source of water for the Bushmen during this very dry season.

Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone said, ‘Sometimes there are fires but this is a lot bigger than before. People are trying to put it out but it’s too fast. Life for them [the Bushmen living in the reserve] is going to be very very difficult because the melons will be burned.’

The threat is particularly acute because of the Botswana government’s refusal to allow the Bushmen to access water from a borehole inside the reserve. Bushmen had used a borehole as a reliable source of water for decades before the government destroyed it as part of a policy to evict them from their land.

It is almost two years since an historic High Court judgement affirmed the Bushmen’s right to live inside the reserve. But the government still forbids them from using any boreholes to access vital water.

Meanwhile, a huge diamond mine is planned inside the reserve, as well as a tourist lodge. Both projects will need to sink boreholes in order to operate.