Botswana: Vestiges of Water

Shaikerawe is located just minutes away from the Namibian border in one of the driest and most remote regions in Botswana. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

The village is approximately 25 kilometers away from the Okavango Delta, Botswana's protected wildlife haven. The Delta's waters never reach Shaikerawe for many reasons: the riparian rights belong to a different San group and the government, parasites contaminate the water annually, and there's simply no funding for the connection. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Development has not reached this corner of the country, said village secretary Piti Phineas, 36. Very few villagers are educated and even fewer are employed. Most must sell handmade veld products for income or trek into the bush for food. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Decades ago, this hollowed tree acted as a well during the rainy season but it has been dry for the past few years because of the low rainfall. Ronny Mahindi, a Shakirawe native in his 60s, remembers walking there as a child with his mother to collect water. "Then, the San people fetched water in the bush, from fruit, from the Mophane tree," he says. "Now people are returning to the bush for water." Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Today, empty water bowsers like this one are scattered all over Shaikerawe. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Villagers gather next to an empty bowser in the “kgotla” (public meeting space). Bowsers are delivered about twice a month, each carrying 1,000 liters of water. This amounts to 2 liters of water per villager for drinking, cooking, and washing to be rationed until the next bowser arrives. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Jenny Johna, 1, tries out a water bowser with no luck. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Village secretary Phineas exhibits just one of the village’s empty boreholes. This particular one is hand-pumped and fenced. Two boreholes drilled in 1999 dried up within five years and another drilled in 2005 lasted only one year. Phineas is unsure whether there is still groundwater in the area and the impoverished village cannot afford to drill another empty borehole. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Livestock rest next to the borehole. Botswana’s government provided the San with cattle in the 1980s as part of the mandated transition away from their traditional hunting-gathering lifestyle. Shaikerawe’s livestock must find their own source of replenishment. But because of the lack of water and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the few heads of cattle are too unhealthy to sell at market. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

An NGO dedicated to improving the lives of Botswana’s San people, the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives, funded a community garden project in Shakirawe in the early 2000s. The project was supposed to bring jobs and income for the village but, because of the waterless state of Shaikerawe, the project has been abandoned for years. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Women sit on abandoned pipes in the kgotla, which were once slated to be installed and connected to the garden. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

An unsuccessful attempt to drill a borehole for the community garden is fenced off. Image by Linda Qiu. Botswana 2013.

Shaikerawe, a San village in the northwest corner of Botswana, is home to about 500 people, the population requirement necessary to be considered formally “gazetted” under Botswana’s National Settlement Policy.

Theoretically, Shaikerawe is entitled to government provisions such as running water, which it desperately needs. However, the village is caught in limbo: local officials say it is a risk to hook up piping because of the village’s fluctuating size while village leaders say that people move out precisely because of the lack of water.