Pressure continues to mount around the world on behalf of the G/wi and G//ana peoples who were displaced from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) by the government of Botswana. Advocates for the rights of the two San societies claim that De Beers, the huge international diamond corporation, is behind the government’s actions, a charge which De Beers heatedly denies.
As reported in several earlier news posts on this website (January 27, April 28, and June 2 this year), the G/wi and G//ana have been evicted from their traditional lands into marginal, hopeless conditions outside the Game Reserve. They were expelled, they claim they were told, to open the way for diamond prospecting. Although their case against the government for flouting the constitution of Botswana (see earlier news posts) is still being heard in the high court of the country, the international activists apparently now feel that their best chance for helping them is to put pressure on the international corporation they argue is at the heart of the problem.
Survival International, the minority rights NGO that is championing the rights of the displaced San people, planned to have protesters at a pre-opening party last night for a major new exhibit called Diamonds (opening to the public tomorrow) at the Natural History Museum in London. According to a July 5 press release from IDEX, the International Diamond Exchange, the exhibit at the Natural History Museum includes famous diamonds such as the 203 karat Millennium Star and other unusual gems.
Several notable celebrities were scheduled to show up for the opening, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johannson, and Nicole Kidman. Other sources indicated that actor Clive Owen, singer Jamelia, and hotel chain heiress Paris Hilton would also attend. These stars, eager for the publicity of another glittering event, evidently were not concerned about the planned protests. With the media dominated this morning by the bombings in London, the protests at the G-8 summit in Edinburgh, and the continuing glow over the Olympics choice of London for 2012, news about the Diamonds protest has not surfaced yet.
Survival International issued a press release on July 4 that quoted one of the San people affected by Botswana’s eviction, Roy Sesana. He had written to the museum to decry the exhibition because it showed support for De Beers. “The whole world has heard our cries. They know that we have been thrown off our land—the land where we have lived for thousands of years—because of the diamonds underneath …. Please do not help De Beers keep our suffering secret,” he wrote. The San people asked to have their side of the story, their removal from the CKGR, included in the exhibit, but the museum refused.
The director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, also denounced the tacit support of the Museum for the actions of the diamond company and the Botswana government. The exhibition, he said, is “just another big advert for diamonds at the public’s expense and the museum should be ashamed.”
De Beers is fighting back. Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of the De Beers conglomerate, interviewed in his London headquarters on July 2 by the Guardian Unlimited, said he found it “very disappointing” that Survival International was targeting his company for the harsh treatment of the G/wi and G//ana by Botswana. He denied that the removal of the people from the CKGR had anything to do with De Beers and the mining of diamonds: “ This is simply, absolutely untrue … and they have never been able to produce a shred of evidence.”
The De Beers publicity machine moved into gear. National Jeweler reported on July 5 that De Beers issued a press release to counter the one from Survival International. De Beers spokesperson Lynette Hori claimed that, although the Botswana government has granted De Beers licenses to prospect in the CKGR, diamonds have not been found there yet. Even if a deposit were found, she said, De Beers would have “no need to remove or resettle communities arbitrarily.”
These statements by the officials at the diamond corporation ignore the statement by President Festus Mogae of Botswana, as reported by IDEX on May 25 (and covered by this news service on June 2). To quote the words of the IDEX story, “ Defending the decision to move the group of 243 Bushmen from their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Mogae said diamond exploration work was going on all over diamond-rich Botswana and whenever commercially viable amounts of diamonds were found ‘we will develop diamonds for the good of all Botswanans.’” Mr. Oppenheimer and Ms. Hori may have conveniently forgotten the awkward fact that President Mogae has already admitted the real reason why the San peoples were expelled.
Two weeks ago, on June 23, Survival International mounted a successful protest in New York City at the glittering opening of a new De Beers store on Fifth Avenue. Protesters yelled “shame on you” at stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Teri Hatcher, and Vanessa Carlton who showed up for the opening bash. About 30 protesters joined Gloria Steinem in shouting across the din of Fifth Avenue at the celebrities as they arrived for the De Beers party. Lohan’s reaction to the protests was, “I don’t get involved in any drama.” Perhaps she doesn’t care about the torture of minority peoples either.
The conflict in Botswana appears to be getting ever more harsh for the San peoples themselves. As the Independent Online reported from South Africa on July 1, another human rights group, First People of the Kalahari, has accused Botswana wildlife officials of torturing a group of San people whom they allegedly caught hunting illegally in the CKGR.
The people who were abused reported that wildlife officials tied one man to a tree upside down and beat him, beat another man in the groin, poured gasoline into the rectum of a third, and forced others to run in front of a land cruiser. The wildlife official in charge of the area denied that any torture had taken place.