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This $4.9bn diamond mine opens tomorrow in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Photo: Gem Diamonds.
This $4.9bn diamond mine opens tomorrow in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Photo: Gem Diamonds.
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Botswana government lies exposed as $5bn diamond mine opens on Bushman land

Oliver Tickell

4th September 2014

Ten years after promises of 'no mining' in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a $5 billion diamond mine opens a few miles from a Bushman village. Elsewhere in the Reserve, fracking is under way. And President Ian Khama, a director of Conservation International, denounces the Bushmen as 'poachers' and evicts them from their land.

The program of assisted relocation of Basarwa (Bushmen) from areas of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve ... was in no way related to any plan, real or fictitious, to commence diamond mining in the reserve.

A $4.9bn diamond mine opens tomorrow in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), the ancestral land of Africa's last hunting Bushmen - exactly ten years after the Botswana government claimed there were "no plans to mine anywhere inside the reserve."

The Bushmen were told they had to leave the reserve soon after diamonds were discovered in the 1980s, but the Botswana government has repeatedly denied that the illegal and forced evictions of the Kalahari Bushmen - in 1997, 2002 and 2005 - were due to the rich diamond deposits.

It justified the Bushmen's evictions from the land in the name of "conservation".

In 2000, however, Botswana's Minister of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs told a Botswana newspaper that the relocation of Bushmen communities from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve "is to pave way for a proposed Gope Diamond Mine."

And in 2002, the Bushmen told Survival International: "Foreign Minister General Merafhe went to the reserve and told us we had to be moved because of diamonds."

The mine opening has also exposed Botswana's commitment to conservation as window dressing. The government falsely claims that the Bushmen's presence in the reserve is "incompatible with wildlife conservation" - while allowing a diamond mine and fracking exploration to go ahead.

Khama's government has also been heavily promoting tourism to the CKGR while driving the Bushmen off their land.

Half the CKGR opened up to fracking

Botswana has opened up large parts of the CKGRto international companies for fracking, it was revealed last year in the documentary film 'The High Cost of Cheap Gas'.

A leaked map shows that exploration concessions cover half of the CKGR - a reserve larger than Switzerland - raising fears of land grabbing, a drop in water levels, water pollution and irreparable damage to a fragile ecosystem essential for the survival of the Bushmen and the reserve's wildlife.

Licenses have been granted to Australian Tlou Energy and African Coal and Gas Corporation, without consulting the Bushmen.

While Botswana's government has denied any fracking in Botswana, Tlou has already started drilling exploratory wells for coalbed methane on the traditional hunting territory of the Bushmen.

CKGR Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone said: "The government is doing everything it can to try to destroy us ... Fracking is going to destroy our environment and if the environment is destroyed our livelihoods are too."

Hypocrisy personified: Botswana's President Ian Khama

Botswana's dash to develop extractive industries in the Kalahari, and its abuses the the indigenous Bushmen, are plenty bad enough in their own right.

But adding insult to injury, Botswana's President Ian Khama is widely feted as a great conservationist. In 2010, the UK's Princes William and Harry paid Khama a visit in Botswana in support of the Tusk Trust, which supports various African conservation projects.

And Khama is a board member of Conservation International, the US-based NGO. CI and other conservation organizations have heralded Khama's conservation efforts - while remaining silent on the persecution of the Bushmen and mining and fracking in the CKGR.

A Bushman whose family was evicted told Survival, "This week President Khama will open a mine in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Do those organizations who have been awarding President Khama for his work with the flora and fauna still believe he is a good example to the world?

"The residents of the Reserve are not benefitting anything from the mine. The only benefits go to communities living outside the reserve, while our natural resources are being destroyed. We strongly oppose the opening of the mine until the government and Gem Diamonds sit down with us and tell us what we will benefit from the mine."

'Poaching' on their own land

The government continues its relentless push to drive the Bushmen out of the reserve by accusing them of "poaching" because they hunt their food.

The Bushmen face arrest, beatings and torture, while fee-paying big game hunters are encouraged. The government has also refused to reopen the Bushmen's water wells, restricted their free movement into and out of the reserve, and barred their lawyer from entering the country.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said: "When the Bushmen were illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of 'conservation', Survival cried foul play - both we and the Bushmen believed that, in fact, diamond mining was the real motivation for kicking the tribe off their territory.

"Forced evictions of Bushmen from the CKGR have nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with paving the way for extractive industries to plunder Bushman land. Why does President Khama continue to receive prizes for his 'conservation' efforts?

"It's an absolute scandal that Conservation International accepts on its board a man who has opened up the world's second biggest wildlife reserve to fracking, whilst persecuting the Bushmen whose home it is in the name of conservation."


Diamond mine timeline

Early 1980s - A diamond deposit is discovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve within the territory of the Bushman community of Gope.

12 October 1986 - Botswana's Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr Moutlakgola Nwako, announces the government's decision to relocate the Bushmen.

1996 - A formal evaluation of the mine is completed.

May 1997 - First evictions of Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve take place.

1997 - Anglo American drills two exploratory holes in the reserve.

31 August 1997 - Anglo American (the majority shareholder in diamond company De Beers) "denied any knowledge of its activities within the reserve" to South African paper 'Sunday Independent'.

1999 - Mineral exploration camps are set up a few miles from the Bushman community of Molapo.

July 2000 - Botswana's 'Midweek Sun' reports that Botswana's Minister of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs, Boometswe Mokgothu, told Ghanzi District Council that "the relocation of Basarwa (Bushman) communities from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is to pave way for a proposed Gope Diamond Mine."

2001 - In its draft management plan for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana's Government Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) writes, "DWNP should continue to point out that mining is incompatible with the Game Reserve's objectives."

2002 - Bushmen tell Survival, "Foreign Minister General Merafhe went to the reserve and told us we had to be moved because of diamonds."

2002 - A second wave of Bushman evictions from the reserve. The Bushmen's water borehole is destroyed.

7 November 2002 - President Festus Mogae claims, "the program of assisted relocation of Basarwa (Bushmen) from areas of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve ... was in no way related to any plan, real or fictitious, to commence diamond mining in the reserve."

2004 - The Botswana government releases a statement which claims: "There is no mining nor any plans for future mining anywhere inside the CKGR as the only known mineral discovery in the CKGR, the Gope deposit, has proven not commercially viable to develop the mine."

2005 - Third wave of Bushman evictions from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

2006 - The Bushmen win their historic case against the government. High Court Judge Justice Dow states that the Bushmen were evicted "forcibly, unlawfully and without their consent."

May 2007 - De Beers sells its deposit at Gope to Gem Diamonds, for $34 million. Gem Diamonds' chief executive calls the Gope deposit "a problematic asset for De Beers" because of the Bushman campaign.

5 September 2014 - Gem Diamonds' official opening of the Ghaghoo (formerly Gope) mine worth an estimated $4.9 billion. The mine lies within the territory of the Gope Bushmen and just 3.2 kilometers from their community in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

 


 

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

Principal source: Survival International.

 

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