What is the definition of irony? In a press release from the company, Wilderness Safaris congratulates themselves on winning the coveted World Savers Award. The press release claims the award is given to tourism companies that are making strides “to save the world.” The organization that gives out the prize claims that “companies recognized in the annual World Savers Awards have been creative in protecting, conserving, and supporting natural environments and local communities.”
Apparently, the givers of the accolade overlooked the fact that Wilderness Safaris is currently playing a major role in the deaths of the Kalahari Bushmen by erecting a luxury hotel which has become a symbol of the persecution of indigenous people. In 2009, Wilderness Safaris built a tourism lodge on the ancestral lands of the Kalahari Bushmen without getting permission from the tribesmen. According to Survival International, a group advocating for the rights of indigenous people, the lodge was equipped with a sports bar and swimming pool. Meanwhile the Kalahari are being forced from their lands and dying from thirst as a result of Botswana’s water prohibition.
The adversity the Kalahari have had to endure started in the early 80’s when a significant deposit of diamonds, valued at $3.3 trillion, was discovered on the Kalahari reserves. Since then the government of Botswana, where the 33,000 square mile reserve is located, has been doing all it can to force the native Bushmen from their tribal lands.
Survival International reported that in 1997, 2002 and 2005, Botswana officials made big pushes to drive out the group. Although in 2006 the Kalahari won a landmark case, giving them the right to reoccupy their land, they mostly live in resettlement camps on the outskirts of the reserve. In these camps they suffer from “alcoholism, boredom, depression, and illnesses such as TB and HIV/AIDS.”
Unfortunately, the living conditions of the camps are the least of the Kalahari’s troubles. In 2002 Botswana capped a well the Bushmen rely on for their main source of water. Since then the Kalahari have had to get water from a source 300 miles away. Many Kalahari have died due to the scarcity of available water. Earlier this year the Kalahari failed to repeat their 2006 judicial victory. A high court in Botswana ruled that the Bushmen are not allowed to reopen the sealed well or drill a new one.
“The decision doesn’t make any sense,” said Jumanda Gakelebone, a spokesman for the Kalahari. To other critics of the court’s decision, this ruling made perfect sense. “The government wants them out,” said Fiona Watson a spokesperson for Survival International. “They have contempt for the Bushmen’s way of life.”
Others have criticized the harsh treatment of the Kalahari. Several recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “alternative Nobel prize”, signed a letter condemning the actions of the Botswana government. “All the Bushmen want is to be able to use a borehole which they used before they were illegally evicted from their lands. To deny them this is inexcusable,” parts of the letter read. “We urge the Botswana government to allow the Bushmen access to water on their lands, and work with them to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.”
Despite the criticism, Botswana is remaining steadfast in its commitment to vacate the mineral-rich lands. A recent mining operation was given the go ahead by the government on the condition that they not provide water for the Kalahari. Luckily for the diamond-hungry Botswana government, not all companies have had to be coaxed into apathy toward the Kalahari. The recipients of the World Savers Award we mentioned earlier chose not concern themselves with the lives of the people they are helping to oppress. After criticisms from Survival International, the company responded by saying they won’t provide water to the bushmen simply because their business model won’t allow for it.