HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc277-8
5. Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

What recent representations she has made to the Government of Botswana regarding access to water by the San bushmen of the central Kalahari. [37319]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

The policy of the Government of Botswana is that the San bushmen should move from their traditional settlements in the Central Kalahari game reserve to locations where the Government feel that they will have better economic opportunities and access to services. We have made representations about the need to maintain water supplies for those San remaining in the reserve, but our high commissioner in Botswana has today reported that water supplies have now been withdrawn.

Ms Atherton

What action will the Government take now that the Government of Botswana have dismantled the water pumps and drained the water tanks of the San bushmen in order to force them out of the central Kalahari? Is not that a form of ethnic cleansing?

Hilary Benn

I understand my hon. Friend's concern because I know that she has taken a close interest in the welfare of the San bushmen for a number of years. Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Once again, the House is far too noisy.

Hilary Benn

It is precisely for that reason that we have made representations about the decision to stop funding water supplies. Those San remaining—the estimates vary from between 20 to 100 people—now have to obtain water supplies either from those that they have conserved, or from those that have been brought into the reserve, or from the mine site at Gope. A legal case against the Government, arguing that the withdrawal of water supplies is unlawful, is scheduled to be heard next Wednesday and we should await the outcome.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The Minister will be aware that elections will take place in Botswana's neighbour, Zimbabwe, next weekend. Whatever the result, refugees may try to cross the border into Botswana, thus affecting the welfare of the bushmen of the central Kalahari. What discussion has he had with Botswana and other countries that may be affected to ensure that the borders stay open and that adequate financial help is given for food, water and shelter for the refugees?

Hilary Benn

I have not had such discussions with the Government of Botswana. If those problems were to arise, they would have to be dealt with at the time. The one thing on which the whole House would agree is our wish that the elections in Zimbabwe should be free and fair so that the people of that country can choose the Government for their future.