Botswana: depressed diamond industry saves Bushmen lands
The planned diamond mine at the centre of an international controversy over the forced relocation of Botswana's Bushmen has been shelved due to the global recession. Demand for diamonds has collapsed in recent months, and all Botswana's diamond mines closed in February for two months. Survival International, the Bushmen and many others maintained that the reserve's diamonds were the principal cause of the Bushmen's eviction.
The diamond deposit, at a Bushmen community called Gope, was previously owned by De Beers. It lies inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Soon after the significance of the find was confirmed, the reserve's Bushmen were forced off their land by the Botswana authorities.
De Beers and the Botswana government consistently denied any intention to mine in the reserve. Dr Akolang Tombale, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines, for example, said in 2002 that, "no commercially exploitable mineral deposit has been discovered." De Beers spokesperson Fleur de Villiers described the find as "sub-economic" in 2002, and in 2005 De Beers’s head of public affairs Andrew Bone labelled it "un-economical."
Soon after the Bushmen won an historic court case in 2006 which established that they had been forced out of the reserve against their will, De Beers sold the Gope deposit to Gem Diamonds. In 2007 Gem Diamonds valued the Gope deposit at $2.4 billion, and announced its intention to open the mine as soon as possible. Gem has now admitted that the mine is on hold.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said, "Throughout the Bushman evictions and court case, the Botswana government endlessly repeated two mantras: the 'relocations' were voluntary; and there were no diamonds worth exploiting in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Both were completely untrue. The court ruled that the evictions were forced, and the sale and assessment of the billion-dollar Gope diamond deposit showed up the lie of the second. The only reason this mine is not being built now is because of the recession. Survival's allegations were true all along, as they are today when we say the Bushmen are still being denied their rights. Their treatment is still illegal and against the Botswana constitution. They are not even allowed to use the borehole on their land." (Survival International, April 29)