The story of the G/wi persecution took a new turn this week when the De Beers diamond company asked the government of Botswana to stop removing the San people from their lands—the international protests might hurt sales. Jeff Ramsay, a spokesman for Botswana President Festus Mogae, announced that Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer of De Beers had personally appealed to the government to reconsider its policy of excluding the G/wi and G//ana San peoples from their homelands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
According to Ramsay, the government has no plans to change its policy toward the San people and the CKGR, despite the international protests, led by the human rights groups First People of the Kalahari and Survival International. But Sheila Khama, Managing Director of De Beers Botswana, admitted that the continuing protests about the government’s treatment of the people and the perception that the company is partly responsible “could hurt sales,” in the words of a Reuters AlertNet dispatch.
Both the Botswana government and the diamond company deny that the expulsion order had anything to do with the search for diamonds. Their statements represent a remarkable case of amnesia since President Mogae himself admitted, at a diamond conference in Mumbai in May, that he was not going to be restrained in the search for diamonds by the issue (see our news stories of June 2 and July 7).
The torture and violence carried out against the San peoples have provoked an international outcry, particularly in June and July at the opening of a new De Beers diamond store in New York and at a glittering, pre-opening reception of the “Diamonds” exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London.
The current news story does not mention the fact that tomorrow, December 9, the King of Sweden will present one of the Right Livelihood Awards to First People of the Kalahari for its advocacy of the San case. Also referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prizes since they are presented in Stockholm the day before the Nobel Prize ceremonies, the company may be concerned that news coverage of the award, first announced in early October, could renew hostile press coverage about De Beers and the persecution of the G/wi and G//ana.
Whatever the motivation of the De Beers chairman may be, President Mogae’s spokesman Mr. Ramsay indicated that the only way the government would compromise with the San peoples would be for them to drop their court case seeking their rights under the provisions of the Botswana constitution. The case has been delayed until February 2006 while the attorney for the San peoples seeks more funding for the work.