Controversy stalks Gem Diamonds’ Botswana project
Despite the controversy surrounding mineral exploration in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Gem Diamonds claims Botswana’s San Bushmen are not averse to diamond mining.
Posted: Tuesday , 30 Oct 2007
WINDHOEK and RENO -
For over 20,000 years, at certain times during the year, the hunter-gatherer San Bushmen families used to gather at Gope-now within Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR)--to collect wild fruits, an important part of their diet.
About 50,000 Bushmen live in Botswana, where they have hunted in the Kalahari Desert for more than 22,000 years, making them the region's oldest inhabitants. Diamond exploration was one of the main issues San Bushmen raised when they took the government to court over its move to relocate them from the CKGR.
The Bushmen or Basarwa (meaning those without cattle) are also known as the San. Now living in two resettlement camps, the San say they have suffered disruption to their traditional way of life and can no longer hunt for wild game and forage for roots and berries.
The government claims the Bushmen were moved to improve their living conditions and now have access to drinking water, schools and medical facilities. It asserts that 2,000 Bushmen left Gope voluntarily and were compensated as part of plans to make the region into a game reserve.
Nevertheless, one of the last vestiges of San Bushmen subsistence food gathering may be lost as more doubt has been cast by the relocation by the Botswana government, which last week granted Gem Diamonds the go-ahead to explore for diamonds inside the game sanctuary.
Botswana is the world's largest diamond producer. The CKGR lies in the middle of the world's richest diamond fields. However, De Beers, which operates Botswana's mines in a 50-50 JV with the government, has also urged the government to stop evicting Bushmen from the land.
In December 2006, Botswana's High Court ruled in favor of the Bushmen, finding that the government had tried to evict them by cutting off their water supplies and other services, depriving them of their lands ‘forcibly, wrongly and without their consent." However, the court said it could find no grounds for assertions that the government wanted to clear the Bushmen's territory for diamond mining.
Last Wednesday, Gem Diamonds - which describes Gope as an attractive asset that will add significant value to its shareholders - announced on the London Stock Exchange that the government had lifted the suspension of a retention licence over the area, allowing the diamond explorer to proceed with the project. Gem Diamonds said it would consult with "all interested and affected parties" through its independent advisors, Marsh Vikela (Pty) Limited.
On Monday Gem Diamonds was accused by London-based tribal rights NGO Survival International (SI) of not consulting effectively with San Bushmen communities to find out their views on diamond exploration despite assertions to the contrary by the diamond exploration company.
"As far as we know, Gem Diamonds has held only one meeting with a small number of Bushmen at Kaudwane resettlement camp," SI's spokesperson Miriam Ross told Mineweb. Kaudwane is one of the two settlements created by the government when it moved the San Bushmen from the CKGR in early 2002.
Despite the High Court victory granting them the right to return to areas within the game sanctuary, San Bushmen argue that they face arrests and harassments whenever they attempt to go back.
"The bushmen of the CKGR may or may not be in favour of diamond mining on their land, but have expressed their firm conviction that consultations with any diamond mining company should not take place until they are able to freely return to their ancestral land," said Ross. "At present, they are not able to do so. No one is in a position to give free and informed consent whilst living in a resettlement camp against their will."
Angela Parr, Gem Diamonds' Corporate Affairs Manager, however, maintained in an e-mail to Mineweb that the San Bushmen were not "averse to mining in the CKGR."
"The Basarwa and the various organisations that represent their interests have on many occasions indicated that in fact [that] they are in favour of mining in the CKGR provided that they have been fully consulted on the proposed developments," said Parr.
She quoted from a High Court ruling that had said that the applicants, the San Bushmen, had conceded in submissions that "the settlement of Gope was established as a result of diamond prospecting as opposed to having been closed down because of diamond mining. It was the availability of water at the prospecting site that had attracted people there and led to the establishment of a settlement. In fact, it was the prospectors or an agent of the prospectors, who gave the name ‘Gope', meaning ‘nowhere', to that locality"
However, SI maintains on its website that San Bushmen had lived in the Gope area for generations, and "long before Falconbridge and De Beers started diamond prospecting in the early 1980s". The NGO says the San Bushmen only left the area when the diamond prospectors arrived with their many cars and airplanes, which "frightened" the San people.
"The Bushmen have names in their language for many places in the territory, another indicator of long occupation of the land," says SI.
On its website, the Government of Botswana claims that its policy "has been solely motivated by a concern to reconcile conflicting land use of claims in the CKGR." However, the government also noted that there has been "general mining exploration in country including CKGR."
Meanwhile, Gem Diamonds says it has started work on updating the feasibility study, which was completed in 1998. The company says it is targeting Gope's kimberlite- type deposit in which the resource has been increased by 23% to 97 million tonnes at an indicated level of confidence; hosting some 18.8 million carats.