March 10, 2003

Government defends mineral exploration plans

Botswana government has responded angrily to accusations that it is relocating Bushmen to clear way for diamond mining. This follows revelations by Survival International (SI), an international human rights organisation, that linked the removal of the San Bushmen from the country's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), to the recent financing of a diamond exploration concession in the game sanctuary. Kalahari Diamond Limited, a company with a Botswana diamond exploration license was in mid February given US$2 million by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to explore diamonds in the country. IFC is part of the World Bank.

In a strong worded statement by Clifford Maribe, the assistant director of information and research in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, the government dismissed the claims as a dirty attempt by SI to misinform, mislead and deceive unsuspecting international public on the government's policy towards development needs of the Bushmen. "There is no connection between the relocation exercise in the CKGR and mineral exploration in that area," said Maribe. He said this was an attempt to discredit the country's diamond industry, which was the main source of prosperity and means to provide for the welfare and developmental needs of all Batswana, "including the Basarwa (Bushmen)". "Should a commercially viable deposit be discovered in the CKGR, the merits and demerits of mining will be assessed," said Maribe. He added that the relocation exercise was intended to alleviate poverty and empower the Bushmen, as well as to avoid land use conflicts within the CKGR. "Allowing for permanent settlements, the growing of crops and rearing of livestock inside the game reserve would not be compatible with the government's aims of preserving wildlife resources within the game sanctuary," said Maribe. He dismissed claims that the government forcefully relocated the Bushmen, saying it was done in consultation with the people residing in the game reserve, non-governmental organisations and interested parties. "The people who relocated consented to the [exercise] and even selected the areas where they wished to resettle," he said. He said only 17 Bushmen from a total of 689 who resided in the CKGR in 2001, remain in the game sanctuary, and the government was continuing with efforts to persuade them to relocate.

However, there has been precedence for relocations of communities from protected areas in the country. The government has relocated non-Bushmen communities such as the Mababe, who were moved from Moremi Game Reserve, near the resort town of Maun in north-western Botswana. But it is currently locked in controversy with the Wayeyi community of the Okavango Delta, south of Maun. The Wayeyi have appealed to the UN General Assembly for intervention, following allegations that they are being moved from the delta to make way for tourism projects that will only "benefit the rich". (African Church Information Service)

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