February 18, 2003

Bushmen lose to diamond exploration, activists say

The plight of the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) has once again been highlighted by the recent financing of a diamond exploration venture in the CKGR.

The CKGR is the ancestral home of the Gana, Gwi and Bakgalagadi. "After a 15-year campaign of persecution, the last Bushmen were evicted from their homes in February 2002. Around 100 still hold out in the reserve," lobby group Survival International said in a statement. The group believes the indigenous people, also known as the Basarwa, are being forced off their ancestral land to make way for mining concessions and not, as the government has stated, to allow them better access to health care and other services. Survival International pointed to the recent financing of a diamond exploration concession in the CKGR as further evidence of the "campaign of persecution" being waged against the Bushmen.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank, recently financed Kalahari Diamonds Limited to the tune of US $2 million. Kalahari Diamonds Limited has a licence to explore for diamonds in Botswana, including the CKGR. The company was formed on the initiative of BHP Billiton Group - the world's largest diversified resource group in terms of market capitalisation - and is partly owned by BHP Billiton and institutional investors (including the IFC) and institutions involved in diamond cutting, polishing and retailing, an IFC document on the project revealed.

Survival International alleges that "most of the reserve has since been parcelled out in diamond exploration concessions" and links these to the government's eviction of the indigenous people in the CKGR. "Despite IFC requirements that indigenous communities are informed participants in the development of such a project, no Bushmen communities from the CKGR were consulted over the plans," Survival International alleged. It is a claim disputed by Kalahari Diamonds Limited General Manager John Bristow. He told IRIN that the IFC has a "very proactive transparency and disclosure policy" and that the company's intended work was advertised in Botswana. "We networked with all the NGOs involved with the Bushmen. We might not have got down to the last person on the ground, but we certainly met with NGOs active among the Bushmen community, there was a concerted effort to flag the exploration programme," Bristow said. He also stressed that the CKGR was only one component of the exploration venture in Botswana, and that no mining was actually being conducted as yet. "[Right now] we are talking strictly about geo-physical exploration [by air] ... and the next two years of exploration will be essentially airborne. While we do have licences for the CKGR we don't know what we'll turn up there, we might find nothing there and might not get close to developing a mine," Bristow noted.

The government of Botswana's stated position on the matter is that: "There has never been any forceful relocation of Basarwa from the CKGR. There is no mining nor any plans for future mining anywhere inside the CKGR as the only known mineral discovery in the CKGR ... has proven not commercially viable to develop into a mine. "The intention of government is to bring the standards of living of Basarwa up to the level [prevailing] in the rest of the country as well as to avoid land use conflicts in the CKGR i.e. allowing permanent settlement, growing of crops and rearing of livestock inside the reserve which is not compatible with preserving wildlife resources." Mining giant De Beers had also increased its exploration concessions on the Bushmen's land, Survival International alleged. The group noted that in November, De Beers threatened legal action against Survival International for associating the evictions with diamond interests. (IRIN)

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